We’re at a precipitious moment with the Wuhan coronavirus.

While scientists scramble to learn the specifics of just how contagious and how deadly this pathogen is, and health officials work on preventing its spread and plan for possible outbreaks, the World Health Organization on Thursday is meeting to decide whether it constitutes a global health emergency.

The organization met last week and decided that, at that point, it was not. But the number of those infected has ballooned since then.

As of Thursday 7,700 cases were confirmed worldwide, and 170 people had died from the virus (all of those were in China). Five cases have been confirmed in the United States.

Part of what makes this strain of coronavirus seem so scary is the rapid rise in cases; the first were reported just a month ago. The outbreak started in China, but the news this week of a possible case in Lawrence obviously hit close to home.

As we reported Wednesday, our local officials say they’re being vigilant and are ready to handle possible spread of the virus to the Manhattan area. They have to be.

Our airport has multiple planes daily coming and going to big international hubs.

Our university has 429 undergraduate students from China on its campus, according to K-State officials, and an unknown number of grad students. The school has contacted anyone who has traveled to China recently to find out whether they have symptoms and inform them of precautions they should take.

We take comfort that K-State is being proactive in this matter.

We also take comfort that we have so many experts here on infectious diseases. The National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF), which is the federal zoonotic disease lab currently under construction on the north end of campus, will study pathogens that, like the Wuhan coronavirus, are highly contagious and can pass from animals to humans.

Yes, for many people it’s scary to know that those diseases exist just down the road. But this present outbreak is also a reminder of how important NBAF’s mission is. Research like makes us safer in the long term.

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