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article imageWhy the fight against coronavirus is proving so complicated

By Tim Sandle     Apr 1, 2020 in Science
Many in society are wondering why the novel coronavirus is proving especially challenging to contain. There are several reasons for this complexity, ranging from how infectious it actually is to how it moves through a population.
The novel betacoronavirus making daily headlines around the world is challenging precisely because it is novel, and scientists are having to shift through complex data to best understand patterns relating to the virus. The virus, SARS-CoV-2, causes the diseases collectively referred to as COVD-19. As well as combating the disease, scientists also need to track and to understand how the virus moves through society and has travelled around the world so quickly.
To highlight this complexity, we look at three examples.
Epidemiological complexities
The virus also highlights how vulnerable society is to new diseases and how difficult it is to contain them. In one recent research paper, the authors state: “The COVID-19 outbreak is a stark reminder of the ongoing challenge of emerging and re-emerging infectious pathogens and the need for constant surveillance, prompt diagnosis and robust research to understand the basic biology of new organisms and our susceptibilities to them, as well as to develop effective countermeasures.”
Difficulty in assessing virus spread
A further reason for the difficulty in assessing how infectious the virus is relates to difficulties in assessing the reproductive number of the virus. This relates to how rapidly a pathogen can spread within a population, with a high value number reflecting a greater number of people who could be at risk of contracting the virus. In relation to SARS-CoV-2, there are disagreements between researchers about what the actual reproductive number is. This may be partly due to issues with accurate reporting in relation to certain countries.
Linked to this is defining the incubation period, which appears to have an average of 5.1 days (although infections can take longer to manifest). Overall, clinical findings that 97.5 percent of people who develop symptoms of infection within 11.5 days of exposure.
This time delay makes assessing the spread of the virus more difficult as data about an infection comes many days after an infection transmission event has happened.
Creating a vaccine
Vaccine development takes time, especially when less in known about the pathogen of concern. Currently different research groups are experimentally assessing immunological data to identify a set of SARS-CoV- 2 immune cells.
This involves finding the right epitopes, which are biomarkers recognized by the immune system and which function to trigger actions against the virus. By coming up with recommendations of specific epitopes the right types of incorporation in vaccine designs can be identified. This process, however, takes time.
After this any candidate vaccine needs to be tested out, for both efficacy and safety. Then there are the complexities of manufacturing, cost and distribution.
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