[Note: Article updated and re-published from Jan 15, 2020]
On January 11, a 61-year-old man died from an outbreak of a mystery virus in Wuhan, China.
The virus appears to cause pneumonia-like symptoms, where the infected person’s lung air sacs become inflamed and they have difficulty breathing, fever, and chills.
A total of 59 cases had been reported initially. However, as of today, 300 people in China have been affected by the virus and five more deaths reported. The virus has spread beyond China to five other countries, including the first known case in the U.S state of Washington.
Chinese officials and the World Health Organization (WHO) have identified the virus as a strain of coronavirus-- named 2019-nCoV.
What Are Coronaviruses?
Coronaviruses, which get their name from their spiky halos as seen under a microscope, are a family of viruses that commonly affect mammals’ respiratory tracts.
Most coronaviruses affect animals, but seven, including the new virus, can be transmitted from animals to people. They are then spread through coughing, sneezing, or contact with an infected person.
One such virus in 2003, known as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), was transmitted from bats and civet cats. It infected 8,098 people in China and killed 774 people. Another virus—the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS —transmitted from dromedary camels and infected 2,494 people, killing 858.
Common symptoms of coronaviruses include fever, coughs, headaches, and runny nose, but symptoms like chills, body aches, and shortness of breath are signs of lethal coronaviruses.
The Wuhan virus is known to cause fatigue, dry cough, and difficulty in breathing. It has been linked to the region’s South China Seafood Wholesale Market, where live wild animals like bats, rabbits, snakes, and chickens were sold along with various seafood. The market has since been closed for disinfection and further investigation.
Actions Being Taken
International experts have recently analyzed the virus and discovered it to be a group-2B coronavirus that is nearly 80 percent similar to SARS and likely transmitted to humans by bats.
The identification of the virus has enabled healthcare workers to quickly diagnose a patient in just 2-3 hours, from a lengthy 6-8 hours. With evidence that the virus can be transmitted from humans to humans, airports around the world are screening passengers arriving from Wuhan.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is meeting this week to decide whether to declare the Wuhan virus as an international health emergency. They are warning people traveling to China to avoid animal markets and to not touch live animals or eat wild animals.
With China gearing up for the New Year when nearly 1.4 billion people travel back home, the timing of this outbreak is concerning. However, the country is prepared to deal with the situation with ample amounts of masks and other protective gear as well as available isolation beds in hospitals.
Sources: BBC, Washington Post, CNA, umn.edu