News: Novel coronavirus forum offers topical education for learners

Novel coronavirus panellists

As the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) epidemic continues to unfold, it provides a topical and timely learning opportunity for students at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry.

Learners from the School heard from an expert panel of faculty members about the novel coronavirus at a forum discussion this week. The outbreak was explored in the context of virology, infectious disease medicine and past epidemics.

The forum featured a panel of researchers and clinicians, consisting of Dr. Michael Silverman; Dr. Megan Devlin; Francisco Olea-Popelka, PhD; Eric Arts, PhD; Ryan Troyer, PhD and Art Poon, PhD. It was moderated by Microbiology & Immunology Acting Chair Gregory Dekaban, PhD.

The panellists brought their diverse backgrounds to the discussion, examining the complex coronavirus epidemic from a multitude of angles, from genomic sequencing of the virus to treatment protocols to psychosocial impacts.

Students also participated in an engaging question and answer period, which offered clarification about isolation versus quarantine as prevention methods and insight into animal-to-human viral transmission.

“I think it’s a very topical issue going on right now and its important for us as medical students and future physicians to be informed and to gain knowledge from this epidemic,” said Chris Zhang, Medicine Class of 2022. “I really appreciated the broad perspectives the panellists had – clinical, scientific, social-scientific and even veterinary. It gave me a very nice overview of the coronavirus situation as it is today.”

As of February 10, there were 40,645 confirmed cases, 910 deaths and 3,578 recovered. Canada has seen seven cases of the novel coronavirus.

At this time, the Public Health Agency of Canada has assessed the public health risk associated with 2019-nCoV in Wuhan, China as low for Canada.

During the presentations, Dr. Silverman offered insight to students from his time working in Toronto during the 2002-2004 SARS outbreak. He noted how prevention practices have since changed as clinicians and researchers learned from that epidemic.

“It was really very unpleasant,” he said. “It still is very difficult to think about it. It was primarily a hospital epidemic and health care workers were dying; it was awful.”

Dr. Devlin outlined symptoms and treatment protocols to the learners in the room and highlighted the importance of avoiding misinformation in the media and fact-checking scientific reports that are rapidly published due to the immediacy of the epidemic. She also emphasized that influenza still remains a much greater risk to the general population.

Olea-Popelka discussed the science behind zoonotic diseases and the importance of a multifaceted approach to treatment and prevention. It’s an approach to research and patient care that was reflected by the interdisciplinarity of the panellist.

“These events are not random; these are the result of an interaction between different animal species, humans and the environment,” explained the Beryl Ivey Chair in One Health during his presentation. “Social and cultural factors play a significant role in why these diseases occur, and if we forget that, we will fall short on how to treat, prevent and cure these outbreaks.”

Western continues to monitor the ongoing situation with novel coronavirus and takes its direction and shares information from federal, provincial and local health authorities.

For more information, visit