Pien Huang

Pien Huang is a global health and development reporter on the Science desk. She was NPR's first Reflect America Fellow, working with shows, desks and podcasts to bring more diverse voices to air and online.

She's a former producer for WBUR/NPR's On Point and was a 2018 Environmental Reporting Fellow with The GroundTruth Project at WCAI in Cape Cod, covering the human impact on climate change. As a freelance audio and digital reporter, Huang's stories on the environment, arts and culture have been featured on NPR, the BBC and PRI's The World.

Huang's experiences span categories and continents. She was executive producer of Data Made to Matter, a podcast from the MIT Sloan School of Management, and was also an adjunct instructor in podcasting and audio journalism at Northeastern University. She worked as a project manager for public artist Ralph Helmick to help plan and execute The Founder's Memorial in Abu Dhabi and with Stoltze Design to tell visual stories through graphic design. Huang has traveled with scientists looking for signs of environmental change in Cameroon's frogs, in Panama's plants and in the ocean water off the ice edge of Antarctica. She has a degree in environmental science and public policy from Harvard.

As the world seeks to join together to bring the novel coronavirus under control, President Trump has sent a letter to the World Health Organization threatening that the U.S. will halt all funding and consider leaving the agency, pending an assessment of its response to COVID-19.

The U.S. has the most coronavirus deaths of any country in the world — on May 11, the death toll passed 80,000.

And that's likely an undercount.

This week, the question of mutation has been front and center in coverage of the coronavirus — from controversial claims about changes that make the virus more contagious to reassurances that any mutations are not yet consequential.

Here are some of the questions being raised — and what the specialists can (and can't yet) say to answer them.

Is the coronavirus mutating?

Updated on May 19 at 8:51 a.m. ET

The World Health Organization describes its job as "the global guardian of health."

It is now possibly facing the most devastating global health threat in its 72-year history: the coronavirus pandemic. WHO is devoting hundreds of millions of dollars and an all-hands-on-deck approach to the effort to vanquish the virus.

And it is being accused of failing to uphold its mission.

The fight against coronavirus will not be won until every country in the world can control the disease. But not every country has the same ability to protect people.

Each week we answer some of your pressing questions about the coronavirus and how to stay safe. Email us your questions at goatsandsoda@npr.org with the subject line: "Weekly Coronavirus Questions."

Does the size of a viral dose make a difference? That is, if you're exposed to lots of viral particles, will you get sicker?

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

President Trump's plan to put a hold on U.S. funding for the World Health Organization during a global pandemic "is as dangerous as it sounds," says billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates. The Microsoft founder joined others defending the WHO, which they say is doing vital work to fight COVID-19.

The coronavirus has plunged the world into a crisis that's being compared to World War II and the Great Depression. It's the worst time possible, Gates and others say, to take money away from the U.N. health agency.

Is it possible to be infected with the coronavirus and show no symptoms? Or go through a period of several days before symptoms kick in?

And even in this stage with no cough, no fever, no sign of illness, could you be transmitting the virus to others?

Coronavirus case counts are rising exponentially in Africa. Since the continent saw its first case, in Egypt in mid-February, some 10,000 cases and 500 deaths have been confirmed.

In communities where most coronavirus tests are coming back positive, it's a sign there are many more cases there that haven't been found, say World Health Organization officials in a press conference on Monday.

"If 80-90% of the people test positive, you are probably missing a lot of cases," says Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program.

As the new coronavirus continues to spread around the globe, researchers say the virus is changing its genetic makeup slightly. But does that mean it is becoming more dangerous to humans? And what would the impact be on any future vaccines?

The fact that the novel coronavirus appeared in the middle of flu season has prompted inevitable comparisons. Is COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, pretty much similar to the flu or does it pose a far greater threat?

Although there are still many unknowns about COVID-19, there is some solid information from researchers that sheds light on some of the similarities and differences at this time.

Symptoms

On Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, user 一只猫叫鱼Yu kept a public diary of her lockdown experience in Wuhan, China. On day 29, she described losing track of time. "I watch the days go by one after another," she wrote. "I don't know how long days like this are going to last."

Updated on March 17 at 5:06 p.m. ET

Mild.

Moderate.

Serious.

Severe or extreme.

These are some of the adjectives being used to describe the symptoms displayed by patients with COVID-19. Vice President Pence used them in his remarks to the nation last week:

"Some — some large percentage have mild flu symptoms; some have serious flu symptoms."

Keep your distance. And don't kiss.

Those are two pieces of advice that could be crucial in reducing the spread of the coronavirus.

Public health officials say the spread has been mainly driven through people spending time indoors with others who have the disease.

"Looks like the main driver is not widespread community infection — looks like it's household-level infection," Dr. Bruce Aylward, a senior adviser to the World Health Organization, said at a news conference in Geneva on Feb. 25.

Updated Feb. 21, 11:46 a.m. ET

Last month, a British man went to a conference in Singapore, then on a ski trip to the French Alps.

What he didn't know when he arrived in the Alps was that he was infected with the virus behind the COVID-19 outbreak.

During his stay at a ski village, it appears he infected 11 other people, who subsequently traveled on to the U.K. and Spain, the World Health Organization says.

Updated on March 6 at 3:45 p.m.

It's the season for colds and flus — and a newly identified respiratory disease, COVID-19.

To cut your risk of catching a respiratory illness on your next flight, experts offer two pieces of common-sense advice: Wash your hands frequently and keep a distance from people who are sick.

Where to sit to prevent getting sick

A 2018 study suggests that to minimize contact with other passengers, you should pick a window seat and stay put.

Like Ebola virus in Africa and the Nipah virus in Asia, the new coronavirus — 2019-nCoV — appears to have originated in bats.

Chinese researchers took samples of the coronavirus from patients in Wuhan, the city in central China where the outbreak was first detected.

They compared the genetic sequence of the new coronavirus — 2019-nCoV — to a library of known viruses and found a 96% match with a coronavirus found in horseshoe bats in southwest China. The findings were published in a study in Nature this week.

Updated at 8:20 p.m. ET

Public health officials around the world were responding to the fast-growing outbreak of the new coronavirus, as officials in China, at the epidemic's epicenter, announced that the number of cases there had reached nearly 6,000.

The World Health Organization announced that it would send international health experts to China to help understand the outbreak and guide the response.

Updated at 12:26 p.m. ET

Saturday's Lunar New Year celebrations were dampened in China by fears over the coronavirus outbreak and travel restrictions affecting 46 million people.

On the first day of the Lunar New Year, China's President Xi Jinping stressed the urgency of controlling the outbreak — which has seen hundreds more confirmed cases since Friday — and urged state authorities to prioritize containment efforts.

The discovery of the new coronavirus has transformed cities in China and neighboring countries.

The impact is strongest in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the virus — a city of 11 million that is now under lockdown.

Other Asian cities, from Manila to Seoul, are also feeling the effect. Photographers are documenting the way life has changed since the discovery of 2019-nCoV.

"I don't feel in the Chinese New Year mood at all this year," a netizen with username 朱一龙qwertyuiop416 posted this week on Weibo, China's equivalent to Twitter. "I'm panicking. I'm getting more scared every day."

That sentiment reflects a trend on Chinese social media as confirmed cases of the Wuhan coronavirus surge.

Initially, there was some lightheartedness in posts. One Weibo user commented it was "the perfect time" to stay home and play a mobile phone game called Plague Inc.

Updated on Jan. 17 at 2 p.m.

Three U.S. airports will begin screening passengers from Wuhan, China, for symptoms of the new strain of coronavirus — named 2019-nCoV — that has been discovered in China.

2019 is a record year for dengue fever in Latin America. The mosquito-borne disease has surged across the continent, from Mexico down to Chile and Argentina, with nearly 3 million cases reported.

Every day, as many as 500 babies in sub-Saharan Africa are born with HIV. Standard practice in many of these countries is to give them treatment if they test positive, but not for weeks or even months after they're born. The concern is that newborns can't tolerate the powerful drugs.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Every day, as many as 500 babies in sub-Saharan Africa are born with HIV. Now a study out of Botswana finds that if newborns are given treatment right away, the virus becomes almost undetectable. NPR's Pien Huang reports.

You'd think that as a poor country grows wealthier, more of its children would get vaccinated for preventable diseases such as polio, measles and pneumonia.

But a review published in Nature this month offers a different perspective.

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