- Chinese authorities have detected a new outbreak of coronavirus.
- While this is the same family as the SARS virus, it appears to be a new disease.
- The first case has appeared in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- There have been 291 cases of the new virus reported so far.
Editor’s note: This is a developing story that’s been updated since it was first published. Healthline will continue to update this article when there’s new information.
Chinese scientists have identified a previously unknown type of coronavirus as the cause of a recent pneumonia outbreak in the city of Wuhan, according to state media.
The current situation follows the severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus (SARS-CoV) outbreak in 2002 and first detection of Middle East respiratory syndrome-coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in 2012.
On January 26, the CDC confirmed that the number of travel-related cases in the U.S. have risen to 5. These patients were identified in Arizona and California.
“Investigations are underway to determine where these patients went after returning to the United States and any close contacts who were possibly exposed. CDC teams have been deployed to support these efforts,” the CDC said in a statement.
As of Monday, no additional infections have been identified, although up to 110 cases are currently under investigation in the United States, according to Reuters.
The outbreak originating in Wuhan late last year has, so far, caused a total of 82 deaths and infected nearly 3,000 people in China, reports CNBC.
The most recent fatality was a 50-year-old man in Beijing, who had recently traveled to Wuhan. He had sought medical attention on January 21 and was confirmed to be infected the next day. He died of respiratory failure Monday.
The second virus-related death outside Wuhan occurred on the island province of Hainan and involved an 80-year-old woman from Wuhan, according to CNN.
The World Health Organization’s most recent figures found that there have been cases in Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, Taipei, China, Macau, the U.S., and the Republic of Korea. WHO confirmed all patients had traveled to Wuhan.
“It is expected that further international exportation of cases may appear in any country. Thus, all countries should be prepared for containment, including active surveillance, early detection, isolation and case management, contact tracing, and prevention of onward spread of 2019-nCoV infection, and to share full data with WHO,” said the WHO in a statement.
On Thursday, Jan. 23, the CDC escalated its health warning regarding travel to Wuhan, China to a level 3.
This means the CDC advises travelers to avoid nonessential travel to Wuhan, China — previously identified as the epicenter of the recent outbreak.
According to the CDC:
- Chinese officials have closed transport in and out of Wuhan, including buses, subways, trains, and the international airport.
- Preliminary information suggests that older adults and people with underlying health conditions may be at increased risk for severe disease from this virus.
- Person-to-person transmission has been confirmed.
“We know that there is human-to-human transmission in China, but for now it appears limited to family groups and health workers caring for infected patients. At this time there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission outside China, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t happen,” Tedros Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO said in a statement.
Ghebreyesus admitted that they don’t know the source of this virus, and “we don’t understand how easily it spreads and we don’t fully understand its clinical features or severity.”
According to a report in China state media, tighter regulations will be imposed on vehicles leaving the city. Additionally, vehicles are banned from taking passengers out of Wuhan, and measures including body temperature monitoring of drivers and vehicle disinfection will be implemented.
According to the WHOTrusted Source, initial information about the pneumonia cases in Wuhan, provided by Chinese authorities, pointed to the coronavirus as a possible pathogen causing this cluster.
Chinese authorities later reported that laboratory tests ruled out SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, influenza, avian influenza, adenovirus, and other common infectious agents.
More than 8,000 people were infected with the SARS virus, and almost 800 died in the 2002 pandemic.
The SARS virus spread to nearly 40 countriesTrusted Source in 2002 and 2003. The same type of virus was associated with a similar outbreak of MERS, which was first identified in 2013Trusted Source in Saudi Arabia.
According to the WHOTrusted Source, MERS has been responsible for about 850 deaths worldwide.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, with some causing less severe disease, like the common cold. Although some easily transmit from person to person, others don’t.
Chinese authorities have confirmedTrusted Source that the virus in question can cause severe illness in some people.
China state media reported that some of the people who fell ill between Dec. 12 and 29 are sellers from a local wholesale seafood market.
That market has since been shut down for cleaning and disinfection, according to the CDC.
“What’s happening over there is in a particular area of China at a seafood market, and… it [first] appears that transmission is from animal to human,” Nikhil Bhayani, an infectious disease physician with Texas Health Resources, told Healthline.
“Corona means ‘crown,’ so these viruses appear crown-shaped when looked at under an electron microscope,” said Bhanu Sud, MD, an infectious disease specialist at St. Jude Medical Center in Placentia, California.
“Most coronaviruses are harmless,” he said. “They’ll usually cause mild to moderate upper respiratory tract illnesses, like the common cold. Most people will get infected with these viruses at some point in their lives.”
Sud emphasized that while the outlook is good for most people infected with this type of virus, the SARS and MERS strains are more serious.
The death rate is around 10 percent for people with SARS and 30 percent for those with the MERS variant.
“What is unknown right now is the virus being typed. They’re doing testing to find out what type of virus this is and whether it’s more similar to SARS or MERS,” Bhayani said. “I have a strong feeling that this is going to be a new virus.”
China has started to shut down flights and trains from Wuhan effectively quarantining a city of millions, according to reports. This comes just before the Lunar New Year holiday when tens of millions of people often travel home in China.
According to an earlier translated report from the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission: “Experts advise that the city is currently in the season of high incidence of infectious diseases in winter and spring. Citizens should pay attention to maintaining indoor air circulation, avoiding closed and airless public places and crowded places, and wear masks if necessary.”
Sud said, “Any infection anywhere in the world is always a risk for every country because international travel has become so easy now.”
He adds this is why early detection and quarantine are essential measures in halting the transmission of these infections.
According to Sud, human coronaviruses most commonly transmit from an infected person to others via:
- the air by coughing and sneezing
- close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
- touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before washing your hands
“In the United States, people usually get infected with common human coronaviruses in the fall and winter. However, infection can occur at any time of the year,” he said.
“Most people will get infected with one or more of the common human coronaviruses in their lifetime,” he added.
Sud also points out both SARS and MERS outbreaks were from animal-to-human contact, with SARS most likely from contact with bats and MERS from contact with camels.
“Since the organism causing infection is a virus, to date, we don’t have any specific antiviral medications,” Sud said.
Chinese authorities have identified an outbreak of respiratory illness. The CDC has issued a level 3 warning due to the outbreak, notifying travelers they should avoid nonessential travel to the area.
Five people in the United States have now been confirmed to be infected with the new coronavirus after traveling to Wuhan, China.
Research has revealed a coronavirus caused the infection, a common type of virus that can also cause the common cold.
Experts emphasize that since a virus causes the illness, there aren’t any treatments available, and the infection can only be allowed to run its course.