The US Fast-Tracked a Coronavirus Test to Speed Up Diagnoses

On Tuesday, the US Food and Drug Administration issued emergency authorization of a diagnostics test for the novel coronavirus that has sickened more than 20,000 people and killed 427 since emerging in China six weeks ago. The exemption will make the test—which was developed by the US Centers for Disease and Control and until now has been performed only in its laboratories—available to public health labs across the country. The move skirts normal approval channels, signaling the need for speed as the regulatory agency joins the effort to contain the disease’s spread. “This continues to be an evolving situation, and the ability to distribute this diagnostic test to qualified labs is a critical step forward in protecting the public health," …

Travel Bans and Quarantines Won’t Stop Coronavirus

The national plan to try to stop the new coronavirus from spreading any further might fracture international trade, violate people’s rights, and make untenable the workloads of local and state public health departments. It almost certainly won’t slow the virus. That’s the word from people trying to sort out what US secretary of health and human services Alex Azar recommended calling the virus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern explicitly said the measures to stop it should include treatment, tracing of contacts, and social distancing, but not “any travel or trade restriction.” That’s because almost no one in the game thinks that works. “The travel ban on foreign nationals is counterproductive, unethical, and violates international law. There’s little evidence …

Wuhan Coronavirus ‘Super-Spreaders’ Could Be Wildcards

Stopping the spread of a rapidly emerging disease takes masterful medical detective work, including tracing the people who have been infected and figuring out their web of contacts, steps that are vital to understanding how it’s being transmitted. US public health officials are following those trails to quickly detect new cases of the Wuhan coronavirus, including the report on Thursday of a sixth US infection—the husband of a woman who became ill after traveling from China back home to Chicago—which was followed by a seventh, in California, on Friday. Yet there’s a potential wildcard, a deviation that throws off the most careful calculations. For reasons that are still unclear, some people, known as super-spreaders, transmit disease much more readily than …

Snakes?! The Slippery Truth of a Flawed Wuhan Virus Theory

Sharing data during an outbreak is vital for public health. But it can also lead to sensational, and even spurious, research, like a controversial new paper claiming that people probably picked up a novel coronavirus from snakes. One of the many mysteries behind the outbreak of a new respiratory-tract-attacking virus that’s now infected nearly 650 people and killed 18 in China is where, exactly, it came from. The initial cluster of pneumonia-like cases showed up in the city of Wuhan mid-December, and most of those patients had some tie to a wet market there—a place where people sell both live and dead animals, including exotic species, from snugly-abutting stalls. Though nothing has been confirmed, epidemiologists suspect that the novel coronavirus …

Experts Can’t Agree If the Wuhan Virus Is a Global Crisis

A new virus that originated in China has all the marking of a global crisis: It emerged suddenly and proved to be deadly. It crossed borders easily, and requires immediate, coordinated efforts between countries to contain it. Taken together, the details seem enough for the World Health Organization to declare an international public health emergency. But on Wednesday, the WHO demurred. After several hours of closed-door meetings, the 16-person panel of independent experts tasked with advising WHO leadership on the issue took a vote and found themselves split down the middle. WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus told reporters he has asked the emergency committee to meet again Thursday to continue the discussion. “This is an evolving and complex situation,” he said. …

Polio Is Nearly Wiped OutUnless Some Lab Tech Screws Up

In 1979, a photographer named Janet Parker got a disease that wasn't supposed to exist anymore. At first she thought she had the flu, but then she kept getting sicker, got a rash, and went to the hospital, where doctors—in disbelief—diagnosed her with smallpox. Just a year earlier, the World Health Organization had declared that "mankind probably had seen its last case of smallpox," according to The New York Times. That should have been true. But in a Birmingham University lab below Parker's darkroom, a scientist had been working furiously to finish up his viral research, before officials clamped down on the number of facilities studying the nearly dead disease. The scientist wasn't obeying safety protocols, and the virus escaped …