In China, 81 people have died from the virus and 2,750 have been infected with it, according to the Associated Press.
CDC officials say the risk to the general public in the U.S. is low. “We understand that many people in the United States are worried about this virus and how it will affect Americans,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director for the CDC’s national center for immunization and respiratory diseases, said Monday. “At this time in the U.S., the virus is not spreading in the community, and for that reason we believe the immediate health risk to the general American public is low at this time.”
But what’s being done to fight the virus?
Northwestern University professor Karla Satchell is on the case. She’s leading a team of researchers who are trying to understand more about the virus, specifically, the structure of the protein in the virus. Their research will give scientists a better idea of what vaccines or medicines could be used to fight it.
“The development pipeline for those medical products begins by knowing about the protein and its structure,” Satchell said.
Satchell leads The Center for Structural Genomics of Infectious Diseases, which regularly looks at the proteins in infectious diseases. They’ve been studying the coronavirus for the past two years, she said.
“Coronavirus is a family of viruses,” Satchell said. “If you have a family, everyone in the family is a member of the family, but each person looks and behaves a little different.”
This particular outbreak is called the novel coronavirus.
To figure out the structure of the coronavirus protein, Satchell said they’re taking the virus’ gene information from China and making that into protein building blocks. The gene is the code, and proteins are the particles that the code defines.
Next, they take the protein particles and tightly package them together to form a crystal, which, when hit with intense X-ray beams, will produce an image of structure. That image allows scientists to see what vaccines or medications could fight the virus.
In the meantime, the Illinois Department of Public Health recommends to take precautions similar to those you would take to avoid a cold or flu, such as washing your hands and staying away from people who are sick.
For more information about the novel coronavirus, visit the CDC’s website.
Satchell joins “Chicago Tonight” in conversation Monday along with Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of Illinois Department of Public Health.