Coronavirus: How to stop illness from becoming pandemic

PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) -- The World Health Organization is not calling the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. Other health experts agree that threshold hasn't been reached.

It's easy for people to jump on a plane and travel anywhere in the world. That's one way the new strain of coronavirus has been able to spread beyond China in a matter of weeks.

As the number of deaths increases, the concern is that the outbreak could turn into a global pandemic.

However, Dr. Eran Bendavid, an infectious disease policy expert at Stanford Medicine, doesn't think we've reached that threshold.

"We're thinking about plagues, and cholera and smallpox and diseases that have spread far and wide and have caused tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of deaths," he said. "I don't think we're anywhere near that."

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While there's no vaccine for the novel coronavirus, Foster City based Gilead has provided an experimental drug called remdesivir to treat infected patients in the U.S. and in China. America's first case, a man being treated in Seattle, had a good response.

The New England Journal of Medicine reports, "Treatment with intravenous remdesivir was initiated on the evening of day seven. On day eight, the patient's clinical condition improved."

Stanford's Dr. Bendavid says the risk is low.

"Is there a risk of the development of any resistance? Quite low, given the low number of people that are going to be receiving this," he noted.

"And then possible toxicity to the patients, and those tend to be quite low."

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Some hospitals are treating patients with so-called drug cocktails, mixing antivirals with drugs for HIV with some success.

Unlike what happened during past outbreaks of SARS and Ebola, Dr. Bendavid notes there has not been a groundswell of researchers or front-line physicians volunteering to go to China to help. He senses China believes it can contain the coronavirus on its own.

"If there were something like this happening in the United States, would we want people from all over the world to come in here? I'm not so sure," he said.

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