Researchers from Sunnybrook Research Institute and two Ontario universities have managed to isolate and grow copies of the new coronavirus that has caused the World Health Organization to declare a pandemic.
Thanks to nimble collaboration, the team was able to culture the virus from two clinical specimens in a Level 3 containment facility,” said a news release by Sunnybrook on Thursday.
Isolating the virus, which has caused (as of March 12) more than 125,000 infections around the world since it first appeared in China’s Hubei province in December 2019, can help scientists in Canada and around the world to “develop better diagnostic testing, treatments, and vaccines,” and also understand it a bit better in terms of its biology and evolution, according to Sunnybrook.
While the outbreak has begun to level off in China, it appears the virus has found a foothold in a number of countries around the world, and it continues to spread, with more than 4,600 deaths as of March 12.
“While the immediate response is crucial, longer-term solutions come from essential research into this novel virus,” said Dr. Samira Mubareka, an infectious diseases physician at Sunnybrook, in the hospital’s release.
The two Ontario universities with researchers on the team are McMaster University and the University of Toronto.
One of the researchers, Arinjay Banerjee, is from McMaster University.
“I’d always told my friends, ‘When I grow up, I want to be a guy who gets called in if there’s an outbreak,’” Banerjee said in a on McMaster University’s website, which noted that he specializes in coronaviruses and bats.
“What’s happening with the outbreak is sad, but I’m glad I can contribute to the process of understanding this and controlling this outbreak.”
Confused about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials say the risk is very low for Canadians, but they caution against travel to affected areas (a list can be found here). If you do travel to these places, they recommend you self-monitor to see whether you develop symptoms and if you do, to contact public health authorities.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing – very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.
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