Community gathers to discuss the science of coronavirus with CSU experts

While the impact of the current outbreak of the coronavirus known as COVID-19 on the Fort Collins community is still unclear, experts from Colorado State University agree that the broader family of coronaviruses will likely continue to be a threat in coming years.

“This is the third coronavirus we’ve seen in the last 20 years or so,” said Brian Geiss, associate professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Pathology at CSU, during a panel discussion on Feb. 19. “So what I think it does do is point to this family of viruses as something that we need to have more on our radar.”

The panel, moderated by Mark Zabel, research associate dean in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, offered members of the community a chance to discuss the science behind the spread of the coronavirus with researchers in the fields of disease research and response.

In addition to Geiss and Zabel, the panel also included Rebekah Kading and Tony Schountz, associate professors of microbiology, immunology and pathology, and Lorann Stallones, professor of psychology.

Stallones noted that in comparison to other coronaviruses, such as SARS and MERS – coronaviruses that had outbreaks in 2002 and 2012 – COVID-19 has a far lower fatality rate. But Stallones also noted that the ability for this virus to spread is greater than viruses seen previously.

Research vital to understanding

In response to questions from the audience of about 85 people in the Lory Student Center, panelists said it is difficult to predict the severity of this latest coronavirus outbreak or how much it will grow. In fact, Geiss said he remains more concerned with influenza at this point than the current coronavirus outbreak.

But all agreed that it is vital that they continue researching coronaviruses to more fully understand them. A significant part of this understanding will likely come from researching bats, animals Schountz explained are reservoirs for coronavirus.

“A virus doesn’t want to kill the animal it’s in, because if it does, it loses its home,” Schountz explained.

Therefore, his research focuses on why viruses don’t tend to afflict bats the same way they do humans and what caused the “spillover” event that resulted in COVID-19 infecting humans.

Kading also researches bats in Uganda to understand how they transmit diseases to humans.

“We want to understand more about the circulation of viruses and that human-bat interface,” Kading said.

For more information and updates on the coronavirus, you can read situation reports by the World Health Organization.

For information about pets and coronavirus on CSU Source

Learn about a novel approach CSU researchers are taking to track virus transmission in the lab on CSU Source

Written by Ty Betts