Trending Clinical Topic: COVID-19

Ryan Syrek


February 21, 2020

Each week, we identify one top search term, speculate about what caused its popularity, and provide an infographic on a related condition. If you have thoughts about what's trending and why, feel free to share them with us on Twitter or Facebook.

The outbreak of coronavirus that originated in Wuhan City, China, is being closely monitored around the world. The latest developments, including a new name for the disease, helped make the condition this week's top trending clinical topic. On February 11, the Coronavirus Study Group of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses formally designated the virus severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV2). That same day, the World Health Organization (WHO) gave the disease caused by that virus the name COVID-19. Under guidelines agreed upon by the WHO, the World Organisation for Animal Health, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the name COVID-19 was specifically chosen to avoid association with any particular geographical location, animal, or  individual or group of people. The WHO has also set up a dashboard with information on confirmed cases and deaths that is routinely updated.

Clinical knowledge about COVID-19 also continues to grow. Among the issues currently under investigation, the effect of SARS-CoV2 on pregnant women and their fetuses is a critical concern; members of the coronavirus family are capable of causing severe complications during pregnancy. Because SARS-CoV2 has the potential for similar behavior, systemic screening for any suspected infection during pregnancy is recommended.

Given that there is currently no known effective treatment for COVID-19, prevention is of paramount concern. Part of prevention involves identification of close contacts of people with confirmed cases of the virus. What is considered a "close contact"? Although the term sounds intuitive, the actual definition varies by infectious disease. For SARS-CoV2, guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  define a close contact as any individual who has come within 6 feet of a person with COVID-19 for a "prolonged period of time" and anyone who has had direct contact with any secretions from a person with the infection.

Studies are underway to identify a potential treatment for COVID-19. A randomized controlled trial of the antiviral drug remdesivir is currently in progress in China. In addition, several organizations and individual investigators are working to develop vaccines for SARS-CoV2. For example, the National Institutes of Health is working with Moderna, Inc. to develop a vaccine based on a messenger RNA platform, with a plan to begin phase 1 trials within the next few months.

Each new development involving the outbreak brings increased attention. COVID-19 is likely to stay a closely watched clinical topic for some time.

Read more about COVID-19.


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