A new mysterious virus outbreak has been reported which has so far infected over 400 people in China and a few beyond. The United States reported its first case of the new coronavirus on Tuesday, soon after Japan, South Korea and Thailand confirmed a case each. As authorities across the world scramble to prevent further transmission of the deadly virus, MINT explains why it is a major public health emergency.
Has the virus been identified?
On 31 December, 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO)'s China Office was informed of cases of pneumonia caused by a new strain virus in Wuhan in central China. Within a week, a consortium of researchers led by Professor Yong-Zhen Zhang from Fudan University, Shanghai identified the new virus--coronavirus (2019-nCoV)--and successfully sequenced its genome. On January 11, China reported the first death from the outbreak.
What are Coronaviruses (CoV)?
Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans. But, they keep on emerging periodically in different areas, like including SARS in 2002 and MERS in Saudi Arabia 2012, when they infected humans.
What are the common symptoms?
It’s basically a new form of pneumonia, with respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties are some initial signs. The infection causes pneumonia and in severe cases it cause acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death. So far, of the over 400 cases identified in China, six have died. Based on currently available information, WHO has not recommend any restriction of travel or trade. The confirmed cases in Japan, Korea and US are stable.
How is it related to Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)?
The new virus is also part of the coronavirus family closely related to the SARS virus, which had emerged in China in 2002 and affected 8,098 people in over 37 countries before the outbreak was contained in June, 2003. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-related coronavirus (MERS) was another such virus first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans. Like SARS, the Wuhan pneumonia cases have also been linked to a market selling various species of live animals. Some infected cases were found to be operating dealers or vendors in Huanan Seafood Market. However, no clear mode of transmission has been confirmed yet.
Can it spread among humans?
The virus can get transmitted from human-to-human, but according to the World Health Organization (WHO) no infections among health care workers have occurred so far. The best measure, according to health officials is to step up surveillance of pneumonia cases, quarantine confirmed cases and recommend standard practices to prevent infection spread including regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs.