Technology in healthcare is nothing new but in the years since the last Coronavirus outbreak in 2002 when SARS was the spread through Asia, AI and Machine learning is closing in on ubiquity across the world. So how can it help stop the Wuhan Coronavirus this time round?

What is a Coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses named as such because of the halo formation of particles that surround them that give the appearance of a crown or solar corona, the word corona actually means crown or halo. They are known to cause a variety of respiratory infections from the common cold to more deadly outbreaks such as SARS and MERS. The current outbreak of the novel coronavirus (informally the Wuhan coronavirus) is currently a considerable concern as the number of deaths in China approach 600. Governments are now racing to contain the outbreak while scientists attempt to create a vaccine but how is technology helping in the fight against this outbreak?

While the Chinese government initially took some months to confirm that the coronavirus was indeed spreading it didn’t take long for technology companies to create predictive models using machine learning to predict its spread. In fact, one company Bluedot, a Toronto-based AI health monitoring platform was able to not only issue warnings before the WHO regarding the outbreak but to even accurately project the spread of the virus’ most likely path from Wuhan to Japan.  There algorithm designed to track such outbreaks uses reports of disease outbreaks in combination with flight information and new to build a model of the spread of diseases. Previously the technology has been used to map the spread of Ebola.

Scientists are also benefitting from the growing ubiquity of technology in their field. Scientists were able to map the genome for the novel virus in just a month while SARS took closer to 6 months. This information is critical for scientists to create new diagnostics as well as hopefully developing a cure. However, it’s worth noting there are no vaccines or antiviral drugs that are approved for prevention or treatment for any coronavirus currently.

On final area that is benefiting from technology in the form of robotics is treatment. The first person to be detected with the virus in the United States is being treated by minimal staff and a robot to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. Nursing staff are able to reposition the robot so that doctors and other specialists can communicate with the patient as part of his treatment to reduce the risk but also allow a wider range of specialists to be involved in the treatment.

Technology is certainly benefitting the fight against the novel coronavirus, but it remains to be seen whether it will be stopped. The spread of the SARS was contained eventually in 2003 with few cases recorded since, however that is no guarantee that the novel coronavirus will be contained in the same way.


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