What do a mathematician, an epidemiologist, a vaccine developer, a protein crystallographer and a whole bevy of immunologists and infectious disease specialists have in common? Answer: they’re just some of the Oxford University researchers coming together to fight the novel Coronavirus outbreak which has (to date) killed more than 1,350 people across the globe, with over 60,000 people infected.
The outbreak, which the World Health Organisation has now declared a global health emergency, is caused by a new type of an old foe: coronaviruses are common enough to be one of the causes of the common cold. But they can cause a range of respiratory symptoms from mild to serious – it was a coronavirus that was responsible for the 2002-2004 outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), though the novel coronavirus (until recently known as 2019-nCoV, though now dubbed SARS-CoV-2) has already outstripped the SARS death toll in the three months since it has been active.
Like the SARS virus, which was traced back to civet cats, this previously undescribed SARS-CoV-2 is also likely to have been transmitted from an animal to humans – most people in the first cluster of cases worked at or were frequent visitors to one single seafood market in Wuhan in China. But it is now clear that SARS-CoV-2 can be also transferred from an infected person to another person, and these human-to-human transmissions are how the outbreak is currently spreading.