A new strain of coronavirus that was first identified in Wuhan, China, has prompted a massive public health effort to contain the pathogen and treat patients.
The spread of the virus, known as COVID-19, is a rapidly evolving situation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
These Florida State University experts are available to comment on coronavirus and the public health challenges it presents.
Alan Rowan, teaching professor, Public Health Program
Rowan was a member of the SARS task force for the Florida Department of Health and has held multiple public health positions in federal and state government. He currently teaches courses on infectious and chronic disease epidemiology in the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy.
“The current coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is very similar to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), both of which are coronaviruses and seem to have similar transmission and symptoms in humans. Florida has experience dealing with those earlier outbreaks of coronavirus. The most common symptoms for the disease are fever, shortness of breath and cough. The best protection is regular handwashing, staying home if you are sick, avoiding sick individuals and avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth. A calm, deliberate approach to prevention is the best method for dealing with the possible spread of the virus.”
Hengli Tang, professor, Department of Biological Science
Tang’s lab studies emerging and re-emerging viruses that pose significant threats to human health. Researchers use molecular biology techniques and tissue culture models to investigate the mechanisms by which significant human pathogens, such as Zika and dengue viruses, disseminate and cause diseases.
“Continuous improvement of public health measures by learning from past epidemics will be key to reducing the potential of future large-scale outbreaks. In addition, the similarities of the viruses themselves and of the inferred animal reservoirs between the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak and the 2003 SARS outbreak point to the importance of persistent research efforts aimed at understanding pathogen-host interactions even as the offending pathogen lies dormant temporarily.”
John Taylor, professor, Department of Sociology, and member of the Center for Demography and Population Health
Taylor’s research focuses on social status disparities in health and well-being. His most recent work has examined how exposure to stress and adversity is related to biological functioning.
“The most alarming aspect of the coronavirus is how little we know about it in terms of its origins, propensity to be transmitted from human to human and its likelihood to spread to new geographical regions. Much more will be known over time, but right now great effort is needed to monitor and contain the effects of this virus.”
Qian Yin, assistant professor, Department of Biological Science
Yin’s research group is interested in understanding how the immune system recognizes invading bacteria and viruses and launches a coordinated response to eliminate them. Her most recent work studies how bacterial and viral DNA induce inflammatory responses. A current project in the lab investigates how viruses shield themselves from, or even subjugate, key immune regulators.
“The new coronavirus caught us unprepared. We are not clear about its transmission routes or incubation time, nor do we know exactly what makes it infectious. From a molecular point of view, though, the new coronavirus has similarities with other known coronaviruses and RNA viruses, which gives us hope that some existing antiviral medications are effective. Determination of key viral protein structures (one is already available) will accelerate drug repurposing and development.”
Fanxiu Zhu, professor, Department of Biological Science
Zhu has been studying viruses for 30 years. In fact, he majored in virology at Wuhan University, the city now hit hard by the novel coronavirus. His current research focuses on human DNA tumor viruses with the goal of understanding how viruses cause human cancers.
“When dealing with infectious diseases, we can never relax. We may eradicate certain diseases, such as smallpox and maybe polio, but we can never eliminate all infectious diseases. Occasionally there are outbreaks of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases, such as Ebola, Zika and SARS. We need to invest in both basic research and public health infrastructure and forge international collaborations to better prepare for the next emerging diseases. Coronaviruses gave the world two strong warnings — SARS in 2003 and MERS in 2012 — but we apparently have not learned the lessons of the past. Although the technologies and surveillance mechanisms are in place that allow the identification of the disease-causing agent in days, the local government of Wuhan still unfortunately missed the best window to contain the outbreak to the smallest scale.”