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Coronavirus, the deadly Chinese disease which sickened more than 400 people and killed at least 17 since December, has spread to four countries including the U.S., where the first case was reported in Washington state on Tuesday.

While much still remains unknown about the contagion, U.S. officials confirmed Tuesday it can be spread from human-to-human contact.

U.S. officials believe the risk to the American public at large is low; however, the World Health Organization is convening an expert panel today to discuss whether the Wuhan virus should be designated “public health emergency of international concern.”

WIBC host Tony Katz spoke with Dr. Andrew Mesecar of the Walther Professor of Cancer Structural Biology – Biochemistry at Purdue University about coronavirus and what Hoosiers should do to protect themselves from the disease.

What is Coronavirus?

Dr. Mesecar:

“Coronavirus is a general term for viruses that have a crownlike shape. The question then becomes what type of a coronavirus is it and what type of animal or human does it infect. So coronaviruses have been around for decades. In fact, they identified the first instances of human infections from coronavirus back in the 60s. 

“These cause upper respiratory infections, difficulty breathing, coughing, etc. But these generally go away; our immune system fights them off. What’s emerged over the last several years, however, are these extremely infectious and lethal coronaviruses that we’ve been able to identify. Back in 2002 and 2003, we had the SARS virus, then the one in 2013 & 2014 the Middle East respiratory virus, and now this latest one, which is related to the virus we had back in 2002 & 2003.”

Why is This Latest Strand of Coronavirus So Concerning?

“What we don’t know is how this is going to spread over time. Is it identical to what we saw with the original SARS virus where we had over 8,000 infections and a 10{5ad3c25f5d8a6462a9daae157324f98d5b0edc4be0c0ed5ad8ca367936c1d337} fatality rate? That would hopefully be the worst-case scenario, but we just don’t know at this time. But, we’re getting daily reports of more and more infections and deaths from this virus, and these are relatively healthy people. But this is a situation where we’re receiving hourly updates from around the world.”

Is This Something Hoosiers Should be Worried About?

“I slept well last night because we know so much more about these types of viruses today than we did even 10 years ago. The response to this has been much faster and the science behind it much more informed than in 2002 & 2003. The response has been immediate and immediate around the world.”

Click the link below to hear Tony’s full interview with Dr. Andrew Mesecar of the Walther Professor of Cancer Structural Biology – Biochemistry at Purdue University.