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When Truth is Stranger Than Fiction: How Coronavirus (COVID-19) Started

Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen

None of us could ever have predicted that the buzz words of early 2020 would be pandemic, quarantine, and hand sanitizer. Yet here we are.


The question is: how did we get here? 


Coronavirus is the name given to a group of viruses, including flu, SARS, MERS, and–as of late 2019–COVID-19. COVID-19 has now been classified as a pandemic.

It is a deadly, highly contagious virus that is wreaking havoc the world over. Symptoms of the disease include a high fever, dry cough, and respiratory difficulty. From what we know so far, it seems that a high percentage of people who do contract the virus exhibit mild symptoms and recover easily. However, people who are already immuno-compromised; people who suffer from diabetes, blood disease, and asthma; and people over the age of 80 are likely to contract pneumonia as a result of the virus and may not recover. In addition to this, if the virus follows the trajectory we witnessed in China, we need to be aware that health systems may soon be overwhelmed.

So how did a virus that only affects animals become a global health crisis? To understand a bit more, we need to go back to Wuhan, China, at the end of December 2019. 


Scientists suspect that the virus originated in bats who then passed it onto some other animal. It was within that animal that the virus mutated and then passed on to humans when they ate that animal–possibly a pangolin and probably at a “wet market.” A wet market is where farmed and exotic animals are kept, many of which are killed at the market. But this doesn’t explain that some people who were infected had absolutely no connection to this wet market. 


The truth is that we will most likely never find patient zero or the first person to have been infected. That being said, it is possible that this person was a 55-year-old individual from Hubei, China, and that the origin date was November 17, 2019. This is because from that date, between one and five new cases were reported each day and from there on, the viral infection progressed at a rapid rate. In fact, by December 26, 2020, there were over 180 infected people in China. That was the same day that Dr. Jixian, director of the respiratory department at Hubei Hospital, discovered four unusual cases of pneumonia. The next day, he both confirmed and reported that a novel coronavirus was causing the disease.

By January 21, 2020, there were 1,500 cases a day, but authorities only knew of about 100 a day. On January 23, 2020, authorities closed Wuhan. Just two days later, another 15 cities shut down. The disease has since moved on to many countries, including Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, and Hong Kong, with South Korea and Italy being very hard hit.

This is very much a developing story. Although at some point in the future historians will confirm that we lived through extraordinary times, at the present, COVID-19 is currently a crisis of global proportions that doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

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