How is a new virus identified?
January 27, 2020 6:50 PM   Subscribe

So there is a bunch of news about the novel coronavirus and it got me wondering. How do doctors (scientists?) identify a new sickness? Like wouldn't they just assume that it is the flu or something?
posted by Literaryhero to Science & Nature (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Previously
posted by brainmouse at 8:22 PM on January 27, 2020


Whoops, how did I miss that?!
posted by Literaryhero at 8:33 PM on January 27, 2020


However, it doesn't really answer my question. What I want to know is how is it FIRST identified. Like who determines that it is a different illness than others that we already know about?
posted by Literaryhero at 8:35 PM on January 27, 2020


So I'm extrapolating stuff from some second hand familiarity in non-clinical settings, but the most boring answer is that sequencing a virus (which is thousands bases ,compared to billions for humans) is easy and would quickly identify the type and let you confirm that it's a new strain. Short of genetic testing, various tests like immunoassays (simplistically, seeing which antibodies it binds to) could tell you quickly that it's not flu. Viruses even look different physically. But I think even before that a highly infectious and severe disease showing up in a cluster will be assumed to be new strain.

So while I think you're right that one patient with flu like symptoms would get told they have something like the flu, as soon as there's a cluster doctors would both be paying more attention and looking more closely at symptoms and transmission and relatively easily confirmed as a novel.

Here's a STAT article on the sequencing to give you an idea of the speed at which they are moving these days.
posted by mark k at 12:04 AM on January 28, 2020 [2 favorites]


But I think even before that a highly infectious and severe disease showing up in a cluster will be assumed to be new strain.

This was what I was wondering more or less. How the jump from regular flu to scary flu happens. Thanks!
posted by Literaryhero at 1:15 AM on January 28, 2020


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