Near the end of the year 2019 (presumably December) a novel coronavirus epidemic gained quick attention as it emerged from Wuhan, China. Initially referred to just as the coronavirus (generally coronavirus are identified as any virus belonging to the family Coronaviridae), the virus was renamed SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. Subsequently, the newly identified virus was later given the more finalized name of COVID-19, specifically identifying it as a new type of coronavirus with distinct properties from other coronaviruses that had come before it.
Coronaviruses are certain agents of gastrointestinal disease (affecting the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine and rectum) in humans, poultry, and bovines. In humans, a species known as SARS coronavirus (or Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus) results in a contagious respiratory disease that is characterized by symptoms of fever, cough, muscle ache, and progressive breathing difficulty. This virus emerged in humans in 2002 and is presumed to have jumped to humans from Horseshoe bats (indigenous to Asia, Africa and some parts of Europe) or the Palm Civet (indigenous to southern India, Sri Lanka, South-east Asia and southern China).
In 2012 another coronavirus emerged also causing severe acute respiratory illness. This one was labeled Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). The first case was found in Saudi Arabia, and other cases were thereafter reported in France, Germany, Jordan, Qatar, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. The MERS coronavirus was similar to other coronaviruses known to have originated in bats and was thought to be passed from bats to other animals before being transmitted to humans. Camels were identified as one possible transfer agent for the MERS virus.
Next came COVID-19, a virus apparently closely related to SARS coronavirus that emerged somewhere in 2019 with a breakout area in Wuhan, China. The virus was deemed highly contagious (though less lethal except to elderly and very young) and by early 2020 had spread throughout regions of Asia and had reached the United States and Europe, having been carried by travelers from affected regions – a typical transmission vehicle of viral infections. Most people who get sick will recover from COVID-19. Recovery time varies and, for people who are not severely ill, it may be similar to the aftermath of a flulike illness. People with mild symptoms may recover within a few days.
Coronavirus linked to animals
Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses common among animals and it is believed several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans.
In February 2020, a study was released to the New England Journal of Medicine on preliminary findings of studies showing that unlike Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which causes infections deep in the lower respiratory tract that can result in pneumonia, COVID-19 appears to inhabit both the upper and lower respiratory tracts. That would make it not only capable of causing severe pneumonia but of spreading easily like flu or the common cold.
Coronavirus possibilities in domestic pets (cats and dogs)
Although it is a pressing issue pet owners may have about the possibility to transfer the coronavirus (and ill effects) to their pets – a cat or dog – ongoing research suggest that it is not likely. As was mentioned previously, bats are the reservoir species for the coronavirus 2019 virus. Previous human coronavirus outbreaks, SARS and MERS, originated in other species, such as the palm civet and camels. The World Health Organization currently advises that there is no evidence to suggest that dogs or cats can be infected with the new coronavirus.
The CDC (Center for Disease Control) also backs up this opinion, stating that, “At this time, there is no evidence that companion animals including pets can spread COVID-19.” Veterinarians are familiar with other coronaviruses. Canine coronavirus is a highly contagious intestinal infection. Strains of canine coronavirus have been isolated from the outbreaks of diarrhea disease in dogs.
Similar but different coronavirus species cause several common diseases in domestic animals. Many dogs, for example, are vaccinated for another species of coronavirus (Canine Coronavirus) as puppies. However, this vaccine does not cross protect for COVID-19.
Predictably, some of the most pressing issues a general population will have about a highly contagious epidemic are its symptoms. With an incubation period assessed to be anywhere from 2-14 days, the coronavirus 2019 virus (COVID-19) will share some symptoms with the common flu. Telltale signs of COVID-19 infection can include upper respiratory symptoms, including:
- persistent dry coughing and sneezing
- shortness of breath and breathing difficulties
- severe acute respiratory syndrome
- kidney failure
Separately, the RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) is a very contagious, virus that infects the respiratory tract of young children (under two years old) and babies born prematurely. The symptoms can appear to be like those of common cold and are spread in pretty much the same way. RSV may also afflict older adults, especially those 65 years and older.
World health organizations – the frontline of the global health response to viral epidemics
Multiple international agencies and institutions help shape global health policies and fund, implement, and evaluate programs. Some of the top world health organizations will quickly and decisively identify emerging global health risks, alert the public to these risks, and apply resources to stem the outbreak of the epidemic or pandemic. And there are categories of health organizations that are joined in the challenge to push back against a regional or global health crisis.
International health organizations are generally divided into three groups: multilateral organizations, bilateral organizations, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Funding from multilateral organizations comes from multiple governments and non-governmental sources and is distributed among many different countries. A bilateral organization is a government agency or not-for-profit organization that is based in a single country and provides funding to developing countries.
A non-governmental organization (NGO) is any non-profit, voluntary citizens' group that is organized at the local, national or international level. These organizations are task-oriented and are usually organized around particular issues such as health, human rights or the environment.
The following are health organizations are included due to their capabilities for extensive scientific research, capability as a disaster response entity, facilitator of organization and communication, or through the implementation of medical treatment practices in the field, in combatting sudden and deadly outbreaks of quick-spreading viral infections such as coronavirus, disease, and sickness in the world community.
The number of international scientific-medical institutions leading the fight against viral infectious and epidemiological outbreaks is lengthy. Nevertheless, a rundown is provided here of some (and all are commendable in their efforts) to help shape this discussion on how these institutions function to bring well-being to the world community.
As coronavirus is an epidemiological concern, certain scientific and medical institutions are focused (at least in part) on tasks to contain epidemics from spreading within the world community.
The effectiveness of health systems varies dramatically around the globe, even among countries with similar levels of income and health expenditure. World health organizations can have varying charters outlining what they specialize in providing and where they are best positioned to operate in. Significant efforts in international health drive are performed by non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
Services provided by international health NGOs include direct health care, community potable water, vitamin supplementation, and mitigation of endemic and epidemic infectious diseases. This final category of epidemic infectious diseases that would cover acute respiratory illnesses such as the coronavirus will be covered for the duration of this article.
Prevention and protection from the spread of contagious flu and virus
To protect yourself the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the following steps:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Avoid close contact with sick people.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, and then throw it away.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
- Voluntary home isolation: If you are ill with symptoms of respiratory diseases, such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills or fatigue, stay home.
- The CDC recommends that you remain at home until at least 24 hours after you are free of fever (100 degrees F) or signs of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications.
Global health organizations fighting contagious disease and epidemics
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Atlanta, Georgia. CDC is one of the major operating components of the USA's Department of Health and Human Services. CDC works to protect Americans and save lives around the world by detecting and controlling outbreaks at their source. CDC helps other countries increase their ability to prevent, detect, and respond to health threats on their own. It especially focuses its attention on infectious disease, foodborne pathogens, environmental health, occupational safety and health, health promotion, injury prevention and educational activities. It's contact center answers about 380,000 inquiries a year, on more than 750 health and safety topics. The CDC-INFO offers live agents by phone and email to help you find the latest, reliable, and science-based health information on more than 750 health topics. CDC-INFO is here for you in emergencies, using additional agents and extended hours as needed to support CDC’s response. It also contains free downloadable health publications. Contact details.
China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC). Beijing, China. Under China CDC, The Center for Global Public Health (CGPH) was established in August 2016 with the main responsibility of achieving China’s global health strategy, implementing the national public health aid mission, and planning and managing international public health cooperation projects. Through dispatching experts, technical cooperation, emergency response, and foreign aid projects it has improved public health capacity in Sierra Leone and other African countries. The Public Health Emergency Center (PHEC) of the China CDC takes charge of national public health emergency preparedness and response activities. including natural or human-made disasters, outbreaks of infectious diseases, and group poisoning. The Office of Epidemiology provides epidemiology services for disease control and public health, through academic exchange, training, technical support, applied research and international cooperation. Division of Infectious Diseases (DID) of China CDC is responsible for national communicable disease surveillance, early warning, outbreak investigation, prevention and control response, coordination and technical services, etc. National Institute for Viral Disease Control and Prevention (NIVDC) is an independent legal (and academically focused) institution, which belongs to the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention with a long-standing reputation in the field of medical virology. Contact details.
Doctors of the World. New York, New York. Initiates 400 programs in over 80 countries around the world through conflict zones, refugee camps and rural communities, providing care, creating infrastructure and advocating for the world’s most vulnerable people. Its programs for preventing infectious disease are prevention and education efforts that collect contaminated equipment, educate each individual on potential risks, screen for transmissible diseases, and provide direct care, and distribute information to help locate and access healthcare services in the future. Prides itself for remaining in areas of need long after the cameras are gone. Contact details.
European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECOC). Solna, Sweden. ECOC is an agency of the European Union. It is aimed at strengthening Europe's defenses against infectious diseases. ECDC disease programs cover antimicrobial resistance and healthcare-associated infections; emerging and vector-borne diseases; food and waterborne diseases and zoonoses; HIV, sexually transmitted infections and viral hepatitis; influenza and other respiratory viruses; tuberculosis; and vaccine-preventable diseases. It maintains a surveillance atlas pinpointing infectious disease breakouts at this link. Contact details.
European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ESCMID). Basel, Switzerland. The main mission of ESCMID is to improve the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of infection-related diseases by promoting and supporting research, education, training, and good medical practice. It has forged expertise over time in clinical microbiology and infectious diseases with members from all European countries and all continents. An important task is also to organize the annual four-days scientific congress ECCMID (European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases). This is the largest scientific congress in the field of medical microbiology with almost 15,000 visitors. For more than 30 years, ESCMID has been an influential component in the professional lives of microbiologists and infectious disease specialists from across the globe. Contact details.
Institut de Microbiologie et des Maladies Infectieuses (INSERM), Paris, France. Inserm is a European academic biomedical research institution that works closely with hospitals, universities, and other public sector institutions. The majority of its research units involve staff from different institutions and are located close to health-care establishments and teaching centers. The Think Tank Network with Patient Organizations and the Charitable Research and Society unit form joint action programs between Inserm and over 500 support groups for patients, disabled people, and their families. The patient support groups take on a key role in democratizing health care and science. Inserm is involved in 16 national infrastructures. Among them, Constances, an epidemiological center consisting of a representative sample of adults consulting in health examination centers; Frisbi, an integrated structural biology infrastructure; IFB, the French Institute of Bioinformatics; and a P4 virology laboratory. Contact details
Medic Mobile, San Francisco, California. Medic Mobile serves as the technical lead and a core contributor to the Community Health Toolkit, which helps health workers ensure safe deliveries, track outbreaks faster, treat illnesses door-to-door, keep stock of essential medicines, communicate about emergencies, and more. It can design, deliver, and support world-class software for health workers providing care in the hardest-to-reach communities. It has communication protocols in place to send and receive messages with community health workers and other community leaders. With regard to outbreak surveillance, it deploys resources to track priority illnesses with a symptom-driven approach, integrate death surveillance into service delivery workflows, build case definitions and alerts using service delivery and screening information. Contact details.
Mekong Basin Disease Surveillance (MBDS). Nonthaburi, Thailand. MBDS consortium comprises six participating countries: Cambodia, China (Yunnan and Guangxi Provinces), Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam and a growing number of development partners that come together to reduce morbidity and mortality caused by outbreak-prone diseases in the sub-region. MBDS conducts the Bio-Threat Surveillance program. It has trained field epidemiologists and health officials of Member Countries through treating FETP alumni as training staff for countries to establish new long-term and short-term epidemiology training programs, at the same time enhancing short-course training in each member country by supporting curriculum design and training or providing lecturers/expert. Contact details.
PATH. Seattle, Washington. PATH develops, introduces, and advances vaccines, drugs, devices, diagnostics, by implementing applied behavioral communication, epidemiology, health system strengthening, and digital health.. In its Epidemic Preparedness program, PATH helps countries build strong health systems, complete with the laboratories, information systems, clinics, and well-trained staff they need to prevent, detect, and stop disease outbreaks before they can become epidemics or pandemics. PATH works in more than 70 countries and has offices in Belgium, China, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Myanmar, Peru, Senegal, South Africa, Switzerland, Tanzania, Uganda, Ukraine, the United States, Vietnam, and Zambia. Contact details.
World Health Organization (WHO), Geneva, Switzerland. WHO is the directing and coordinating authority on international health within the United Nations system. WHO assumes a role in supporting the Member States to prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies with public health consequences. Through the WHO Health Emergencies Program, it stresses prevention through preparedness to early warning, response, and early recovery. Maintains the WHO Health Emergency Dashboard (an interactive world map) constantly refreshed to reveal emerging emergency health concerns reported through official channels. Celebrates every April 7 as World Health Day. Contact details.
Scientists Warn That We Must Prepare For The Next Global Viral Outbreak Now. By David E. Bloom & Daniel Cadarette (ScienceAlert, February 21, 2020)
Coronavirus, (World Health Organization website)
As coronavirus spreads, many questions and some answers. By Todd Ellerin, MD (Harvard Health Blog, February 27, 2020)
Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) (WebMD website)
What types of organizations are working in Global Health? (Center for Global Health - School of Public Health, University At Albany website)
Coronavirus Virus Group. By Kara Rogers, Senior Editor (Encyclopaedia Britannica, updated March 6, 2020)
Coronavirus And Pets: Faqs For Owners. By Richard Fredrickson, DVM, MS; Jim Lowe, DVM, MS; William Sander, DVM, MPH; Leyi Wang, DVM, MS, PhD. (College of Veterinary Medicine. March 5, 2020)
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Category: International medical and health organizations. (Wikipedia.website).
New coronavirus spreads more like flu than SARS: Chinese study. By Julie Steenhuysen (Reuters. February 19, 2020)
Here's how long coronaviruses may linger on contaminated surfaces, according to science. By Jacqueline Howard (CNN Health, updated February 18, 2020)
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The role of world health organizations that battle the coronavirus and other viral epidemics