What just happened?

On Thursday, the World Health Organization declared a global public health emergency because of the spread of a contagion called the Wuhan coronavirus. The U.S. State Department also issued a new travel advisory on Thursday night, telling U.S. citizens not to travel to China, where the current version of the virus originated.

Chinese officials say there are nearly 10,000 confirmed cases, with the death toll rising to 213. In the United States, there are 120 potential cases and six confirmed cases. The total number of people infected with the Wuhan coronavirus has surpassed the 8,098 people worldwide who were sickened by SARS in the 2003 outbreak.

What is the coronavirus?

The disease being talked about is technically a new strain of coronavirus— 2019 novel Coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV. The media has sometimes referred to the virus as the Wuhan coronavirus. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), human coronaviruses are common throughout the world, and scientists have identified seven different coronaviruses that can infect people and make them sick.

There are four common coronaviruses (229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1). Three additional coronaviruses have also been identified since 2002: MERS-CoV (the coronavirus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS), SARS-CoV (the beta coronavirus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS), and the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV).

Where did the coronavirus come from?

Coronaviruses are common in many different species of animals, the CDC notes, including camels and bats. On rare occasions, these coronaviruses can evolve and infect humans and then spread between humans, such as with SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV.

Most coronaviruses infect animals, but not people. In the future, though, one or more of these other coronaviruses could potentially evolve and spread to humans, as has happened in the past. As the CDC notes, we still don’t understand why only certain coronaviruses are able to infect people.

MERS-CoV was first reported in Saudi Arabia, while SARS was first found in China, and the 2019-nCoV in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China (genetic analyses suggest this virus emerged from a virus related to SARS).

The virus may have spread from wildlife to people at a Wuhan wet market, a large outdoor market where vendors sell meat and live animals.

How is the coronavirus transmitted?

Coronaviruses are mainly spread by respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread.

So the 2019-nCoV, like other human coronaviruses, is likely to be most commonly spread from an infected person to others through the air by coughing and sneezing, through close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands, by touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before washing your hands, and, more rarely, through fecal contamination.

What is the prevention and treatment of this coronavirus?

Currently, there is no vaccine for the 2019-nCoV. The best prevention is to avoid exposure to someone who has been infected. (There is little evidence that standard face masks can prevent those who are well from being infected.)

There is also no specific antiviral treatment recommended for 2019-nCoV infection. People infected receive supportive care to help relieve symptoms, and in more severe cases, treatment should include care to support vital organ functions.

What is the danger to Americans?

Cases of 2019-nCoV infection in people have been detected in the United States. At the time of publication, states with confirmed cases included Arizona, California, Illinois, and Washington.

However, while CDC considers this 2019-nCoV to be a “very serious public health threat,” they say the current immediate health risk to the general American public is considered low.

The total number of people infected with the Wuhan coronavirus has surpassed the 8,098 people worldwide who were sickened by SARS in the 2003 outbreak.

Why should Christians be concerned about the coronavirus?

There are several reasons Christians should be concerned about the coronavirus, and for those who are suffering from the disease. But the primary reason, as the apostle Paul tells us, is that we should “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15) and that we “comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:4).

As a pastor of a church in Wuhan recently said in an open letter to fellow believers, “If you do not feel a responsibility to pray, ask the Lord for a loving soul, an earnestly prayerful heart; if you are not crying, ask the Lord for tears. Because we surely know that only through the hope of the Lord’s mercy will Wuhan be saved.”

See also: 5 Prayer Requests from Behind the Coronavirus Curtain

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