On Saturday, 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 41 people in China have been affected by the virus. The first known case of this virus appeared outside the country recently when a traveler from the Wuhan region landed in Bangkok, Thailand. 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. There is also no evidence so far that the virus can be transmitted from humans to humans.
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. Hong Kong, as well, has put forth government measures that make it mandatory for doctors to report suspected infections to authorities and require infrared scans for arriving travelers from Wuhan.
Sources: BBC, Washington Post, CNA, umn.edu