As a new mystery virus from China is taking footholds in America and other countries, one group of experts is estimating that the disease may be spreading much more rapidly than officials are letting on.
The Imperial College London’s MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis published the paper outlining the bombshell estimate on Friday.
Although Chinese state media claims at least 300 people have been infected by the disease, named 2019-nCoV, the Imperial College estimates that there could be well over 1,700 cases.
“It is likely that the Wuhan outbreak of a novel coronavirus has caused substantially more cases of moderate or severe respiratory illness than currently reported,” the analysis states.
The Imperial College didn’t rely on simple guesswork for their paper, but hard numbers and the presence of a major airport right in the middle of the outbreak zone.
According to the analysis, more than 3,300 international travelers make their way through Wuhan International Airport every day.
Because it takes an estimated 10 days from infection to detection of the virus, this means anyone unknowingly ill with the bug could have made their way through the airport, interacting with airport officials, vendors, and fellow travelers along the way.
Since every interaction is a new opportunity for the virus, it’s not hard to see how cases began popping up in Thailand, Japan, and now even the United States.
While this large discrepancy may be an oversight by China, it wouldn’t be the first time the country has downplayed or outright covered up disease outbreaks.
During the SARS outbreak of the early 2000s, the communist regime failed to inform the World Health Organization about the disease. The virus spread across the globe, and the aftermath even drew a rare apology from the Chinese government.
It took over a decade before scientists finally landed on the most likely origin for the disease: a colony of bats in China.
There are still many unknowns with the new disease, and it will likely be years before we start seeing most of the answers.
So far, several people have died after becoming infected with the new virus. The CDC is even publishing guidelines for healthcare professionals in an effort to identify any cases in the United States.
Authorities are speculating the disease first hit the public at a seafood and wildlife market in Wuhan, China, and spread from there.
While cases of the disease remain low, there’s a monster on the horizon that could spell disaster for China.
Chinese New Year, by far the country’s biggest celebration, begins in less than a week. People will pack the streets for parades, fireworks, and other activities.
If the Imperial College London is right in their analysis, this country-wide celebration could be coming at the worst time possible.
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