The new coronavirus could circulate forever, experts say — becoming another illness in the sea of seasonal colds and flus

Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty ImagesA Tehran municipality worker cleans a bus to avoid the spread of the COVID-19 virus on February 26, 2020.

The new coronavirus is likely here to stay.

Experts think will probably become a permanent part of the human respiratory-virus repertoire.

“This is going to be with us for some time – it’s endemic in human populations and not going to go away without a vaccine,” Amesh Adalja, an infectious-disease expert at the Johns Hopkins Centre for Health Security, told Business Insider.

The virus causes a disease called COVID-19 that’s marked by fevers, coughing, and occasionally severe lung infections. At least 2,800 people have died and more than 82,500 have gotten sick, mostly in China. (For the latest numbers, see Business Insider’s live updates here.)

Chinese president Xi Jinping and President Donald Trump have both expressed optimism about impending springtime weather, since the warmth could stymie the virus’ spread in a similar way to the seasonal flu.

That may be the case, Adalja said: “It may decrease in transmission frequency so that you’ll be able to have time to get a vaccine scaled up by the next appearance of it.”

But it doesn’t mean the coronavirus would go away for good.

Reuters/Thomas PeterNurses in protective gear talk to people in the reception area of the First People’s Hospital in Yueyang, Hunan Province, China, January 28, 2020.

Even if the coronavirus becomes seasonal, it’s not going anywhere

If the coronavirus winds up fluctuating with the seasons like the flu, it could retreat in summer and return in the fall and winter each year.

“We know respiratory viruses are very seasonal, but not exclusively,” William Schaffner, an infectious-disease specialist at Vanderbilt University, told CNN. “One would hope that the gradual spring will help this virus recede. We can’t be sure of that.”

Respiratory viruses are seasonal because cooler temperatures help harden a protective gel-like coating that surrounds the virus particles while they’re in the air. A stronger shell allows them to survive long enough in the air to travel from one person to the next.

The flu virus “survives better in cool, dry temperatures,” Amanda Simanek, an epidemiologist at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, told Insider.

Mask swine flu sick disease hospital doctorChung Sung-Jun/Getty ImagesA hospital doctor wears a mask to protect herself from swine flu.

But of course, the northern and southern hemispheres don’t experience the same seasons at the same time. So once China and the US see warmer weather, countries in South America and Oceania will be entering winter.

Plus, some countries don’t experience dramatic seasonal changes at all, so “the flu circulates there year round,” Adalja said.

Another virus that circulates in the community

Flu patientScott Olson/GettyA patient experiencing flu-like symptoms is examined at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Illinois.

Four other human coronaviruses are already endemic in the global population. They’re all seasonal, and they typically cause mild common colds, though each can cause pneumonia.

According to Adalja, the new coronavirus may very well be endemic now, too – a member of the club of “community-acquired,” constantly circulating coronaviruses.

On Wednesday, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the first possible case of coronavirus “community spread” in the US. The patient is at a hospital in Sacramento, California.

China line wuhan virusHector Retamal/AFP/Getty ImagesPeople wait for medical attention at Wuhan Red Cross Hospital on January 25, 2020.

That means the new coronavirus is spreading from person to person in the US, Adalja said, rather than just among people who were recently in China.

“It’s something established in the community,” he said.

Adalja added that some public-health experts already suspected that some US coronavirus cases were being missed because of their similarity to other seasonal illnesses.

“Likely community spread of mild cases was happening in many countries around the world, mixed in with cold and flu season cases,” he said.

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