As of three days ago, Chinese officials have reported that there is a new virus found in the city of Wuhan that first appeared in late December. The virus is causing pneumonia-like symptoms, such as fever, difficulty breathing and lung lesions. So far, it has infected 60 people with several of them being critically ill and one death. The initial cases were workers from the Huanan Seafood Market that sell live fish, birds, and other animals. The individual who died was an elderly man who had abdominal tumors and chronic liver disease and frequented the market regularly.
The new virus has been identified as a member of the coronavirus family, which is a large group of viruses that includes the one responsible for the common cold. Another virus in the group is responsible for the 2003 SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak, which infected over 3,000 people and killed over 800. There are many unanswered questions about the new virus, but researchers are starting to study it. As of right now, it’s thought to have been transmitted to humans from animals, which is a common mode of transmission for coronaviruses, so not a surprising development. Both SARS and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) are coronaviruses that crossed over to humans from animals. The issue with animal-to-human transmission is that people don’t have any immunity to it. It’s unknown if the human-to-human transmission is possible.
Further information regarding the transmission route, incubation period and populations most likely to be infected is not available yet. Many viruses have an incubation period, which is the time it takes for a person to be infected when they first starting showing symptoms, that can be up to 15 days. Since this isn’t known yet for the novel virus, Chinese health officials are monitoring 700 individuals that have come into direct contact with those who are infected. Based on the limited information currently available, the World Health Organization (WHO) isn’t recommending any restrictions on trade or travel to and from China.