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KU Expert Discusses China's Coronavirus Outbreak
USAgNet - 01/15/2020

University of Kansas researcher Anthony Fehr is talking to media about the coronavirus outbreak in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, which the World Health Organization says could spread worldwide. Fehr, assistant professor of molecular biosciences, studies how coronaviruses counter anti-viral measures imposed by their hosts.

"Starting around December 12, 2019, several cases of an atypical viral pneumonia appeared in Wuhan, China," Fehr said. "Almost all of these cases were associated with a single wet animal market. There is now strong evidence that a novel coronavirus is the cause, as 41 patients have tested positive for this coronavirus, seven have been in serious condition, and one patient has died. While this is not the same SARS virus that emerged in China back in 2002, it is closely related. The virus likely originated in bats, but whether it transmitted from bats directly to humans or through one of the wild animals as an intermediate host is yet to be determined."

Fehr said it was encouraging news that human-to-human transmission hasn't been conclusively detected yet, but he added it was unclear where the virus resides and if more human cases could occur.

"A woman from Thailand who recently traveled to Wuhan has brought the virus back to Thailand, indicating that the scope of the infection may be larger than previously thought," he said. "While I see no large concerns with travel to the Wuhan area, diagnostic tests for the virus will need to be quickly developed to identify the source of the virus and determine if it could mutate into a form that could spread between humans. Of note, this is the fourth outbreak of a new coronavirus that has caused severe human or veterinary animal disease in the last two decades."

Fehr's lab at KU is working to develop therapeutics targeting a part of the virus that is similar among all coronaviruses. These kinds of therapeutics could be deployed in outbreaks such as the one in Wuhan where there are no front-line drugs that could be used either as therapy or prophylactically to protect health care workers or the general public from the virus. CoVs are also a significant source of disease in veterinary animals, and so these therapeutics could have additional uses.

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