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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

San Diego Lab Tapped To Rapidly Develop Vaccine For China’s Novel Coronavirus

Speaker 1: 00:00 Today is the last day for a house managers to present their opening arguments in the impeachment trial. Our coverage of the trial in the Senate continues this morning at 10. The other major story of the week is the spread of the Corona virus. The CDC says a second U S case has been confirmed. A woman in Chicago who recently traveled to China's Wu Han province tested positive for the disease. The airborne virus continues to spread in China. 26 deaths have been reported. Chinese authorities have restricted travel in the country and canceled huge outdoor spring festivals. Meanwhile, researchers around the world, including here in San Diego, are working to find out how the disease operates and how to stop it. Journey KPB KPBS health reporter Taren Manto and Taryn, welcome. Thanks. First off, what is the Corona virus? I mean, how different is it from diseases like the flu? Speaker 2: 00:53 Well, it's, it's pretty similar in terms of symptoms, but the Corona virus and influenza virus are two different viruses, Corona virus, um, respiratory illness. Uh, it's, it's similar to what caused, it's what causes the common cold. People might remember MERS and SARS. Those are also Corona viruses. But there this Corona virus is a novel coronavirus. It's a new strain and what can happen is it also exists in animals and a Corona virus can mutate in animals and then infect a human and it becomes a new strain that your body is not prepared to, to fight off. How easily does it spread. That's what the public health officials at CDC are trying to really figure out. It's so new that we don't know a lot about it. We just know that there was a lot of cases tied to a seafood market and live animal and animal market in Wu Han province. Speaker 2: 01:45 And that is where a lot of these cases are being tied back to. We do know there were two cases that um, people coming from Wu Han province to the U S one in Washington and now one in Chicago, but they did haven't found people who were in close contact with those individuals to have had Corona virus. So it's really unclear how it spreads. What we do know, there's human to human spreading. We just don't know exactly how it is. So how deadly is the virus? Well, 26 people have died. Um, and there's 800 cases at least. But to put it, to compare it to the flute, just in San Diego, 32 people have died. So that puts it a little bit of context, but it is frightening because it's new and we don't have a specific treatment for it and we don't have a vaccine for it. So that can be really be frightening to people where the flu seems very familiar. But again, 32 people in San Diego alone have died from the flu this year. Speaker 1: 02:39 So China is limiting travel. It's virtually locked down a province of 59 million people to limit the spread of this new disease. Are there any precautions being taken here? Speaker 2: 02:49 Yes, there are screenings for people coming from Wu Han province at five airports, two in California, lax and San Francisco. They're also doing screenings at Atlanta and Chicago, which was added, um, just this week. Um, and they're also screening at JFK. Um, so that's, that's one thing that they're doing. And then the CDC is communicating a lot with local health departments, County health departments to let you know, to tell them to make sure that they're prepared for this. But this is something that, um, infection control is something that hospitals and health departments are very familiar with. Um, but they're working really rapidly to get any testing, any patients, uh, specimens who may be under investigation for having this chronic virus to get those tested really quickly. So CDC is the only one that has that testing ability. And so there's lots of communication from jurisdictions sending testing back to the CDC to get those results rapidly because this forest is so new. Speaker 2: 03:44 How are doctors treating it? They are treating it basically the symptoms, just how you would treat the symptoms. Because we don't have any medications specifically to attack this new Corona virus. It's really, they referred to it, care is supportive. We're just kind of treating the symptoms, um, providing help to people who might be having difficulty breathing. But from the two cases that we have had in the U S both patients seem to be doing very well. Tell us about this local company in OVO pharmaceuticals. They're working on a vaccine, correct. There's a international body that just gave them $9 million to work on a vaccine for this. This company has previously worked on vaccines, um, to quickly respond to outbreaks I'm setting such as previously Zika. Um, they worked on Amer's vaccine. Both of those has already been tested on humans. Um, so they're, they're, they have experience doing this. Speaker 2: 04:35 They use a different type of technology, but they don't have to, um, develop proteins and a lab. They use computer imaging and DNA to rapidly design a vaccine. I talked to one of the researcher yesterday and she said that they had a vaccine developed, designed within hours of receiving the genetic sequencing. Um, and so now they're actually manufacturing that, um, and we'll hopefully test it in humans by the summer. Wow. So, and there's a script's researcher who's also working on this virus. And the other thing that we need to learn about this virus is how exactly is it F infecting other people going from human to humans? How does it transfer? We know it's maybe similar to the flu, which is spreads really easily. But because some of the close contacts of like I mentioned, the Washington patient haven't yet come down with the Corona virus. It's still really unclear. Speaker 2: 05:24 So that individual is working on how, what exactly is happening and what goes from human to human. Now the world health organization declined to categorize Corona virus as a global health emergency. Why doesn't this disease qualify for that? I was reading that and it's basically, it's just some of the members said it was just too early. Um, and also credited the quick response. Um, I mean, China is taking, um, you know, significant measures, um, by, you know, banning outbound travel. Um, so there, there's a lot of proactive efforts on Chinese government's part. So that's what some of the discussion was about. Why it's too early to tell to declare it. I've been speaking with KPBS health reporter Taryn Manto Taren. Thank you. Thanks Maureen.

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The Sorrento Valley facility uses a computer optimization strategy that can fast-track vaccine design.
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