Global fear over the coronavirus grew exponentially this week — and a recent medical simulation proves there may be good reason to be concerned.
As the Chinese government quarantines 40 million people in and around the city of Wuhan — where the disease outbreak originated — the United States government is working to evacuate all known U.S. citizens from the area.
More than 1,400 confirmed cases of the disease have already been confirmed, including two in the U.S., while the death toll has risen to more than 40 people.
But Eric Toner, a scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, is not shocked about how rapidly the disease is spreading.
Just three months ago, Toner ran a staged a hypothetical pandemic and found that a rapid-spreading disease similar to coronavirus could infect people in every country within just six months. Even more shockingly, Toner discovered the disease could kill 65 million people within just 18 months.
"I have thought for a long time that the most likely virus that might cause a new pandemic would be a coronavirus," Toner said, according to Business Insider.
"We don't yet know how contagious it is. We know that it is being spread person to person, but we don't know to what extent," he explained. "An initial first impression is that this is significantly milder than SARS. So that's reassuring. On the other hand, it may be more transmissible than SARS, at least in the community setting."
Toner's simulation did not specifically use the coronavirus, but a vaccine-resistant disease that is deadly and as easy to spread as the flu; the coronavirus checks all of those boxes. The simulation started in Brazil's pig farms (coronavirus originated in a food market that also sold live animals), then spread outward as more people contradicted the disease. After 18 months, 65 million people in the simulated perished.
What could mitigate the spread of coronavirus, Toner explained, is the rapid development of a vaccine, which scientists have already begun developing.
"If we could make it so that we could have a vaccine within months rather than years or decades, that would be a game changer," he said.