Mystery Chinese virus sparks WHO meeting as it crosses borders
Mystery Chinese virus outbreak that has sickened more than 200 people and killed three sparks emergency World Health Organization meeting as it spreads to three countries
- On Monday, World Health Organization officials called for an emergency meeting to debate declaring China’s coronavirus outbreak an international issue
- Cases have now been reported in people from Thailand, Japan and South Korea
- China announced Monday that the virus has passed from human to human and sickened 14 health care workers
- World Health Organizations could instruct other countries to keep their borders open and continue trade with China, efforts to maintain order and stem panic
- Chinese New Year is on Saturday, and travelers for the festivities may further raise the risks of the virus’s transmission
The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Monday that it is holding an emergency meeting to debate whether the outbreak of a new coronavirus in China should be declared an international public health emergency.
Earlier Monday, China confirmed that the newly-identified virus had been transmitted between humans, infected more than 200 people, including 14 health care workers, killed three and crossed international borders to sicken four people.
Alarm was first raised by the discovery that the cause of the new illness was a virus related to SARS, which killed nearly 800 people in worldwide in 2003.
Health officials in the US last week announced that the three major airports (JFK, San Francisco and LAX) that receive the most flights from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak, would begin screening all passengers arriving from the region.
Now, as China gears up for the Lunar Year on Saturday, a time of increased travel and potentially for accelerated transmission of the virus, the WHO considers what, if any, guidance to issue to the international community.
World Health Organization officials called an emergency meeting o Monday to discuss whether the coronavirus outbreak stemming from China comprises a global emergency (file)
President Xi Jinping said curbing the outbreak and saving lives was a top priority as the number of patients more than tripled and a third person died.
Adding to the difficulties of containing it, hundreds of millions of Chinese will be travelling domestically and abroad during the Lunar New Year holiday that starts this week.
Authorities around the globe, including in the United States and many Asian countries, have stepped up screening of travelers from Wuhan, the central city where the virus was first discovered.
‘Wuhan is a major hub and with travel being a huge part of the fast approaching Chinese New Year, the concern level must remain high. There is more to come from this outbreak,’ said Jeremy Farrar, a specialist in infectious disease epidemics and director of the Wellcome Trust global health charity.
Authorities confirmed a total of 217 new cases of the virus in China as of 6pm local time on Monday, state television reported, 198 of which were in Wuhan.
WHAT IS THE NEW CORONAVIRUS SPREADING FROM CHINA?
An outbreak of pneumonia-like illnesses began in Wuhan, China, at the end of 2019.
Its symptoms are typically a fever, cough and trouble breathing, but some patients have developed pneumonia, a potentially life-threatening infection that causes inflammation of the small air sacs in the lungs.
Scientists in China recognized its similarity to two viruses that turned into global killers: SARS and MERS.
SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome is caused by the SARS coronavirus, known as SARS Co, and first emerged in China in 2002.
By the end of the outbreak, the virus had spread to several other Asian countries as well as the UK and Canada, killing 774.
MERS, or Middle East respirator syndrome originated in the region for which it’s named, ultimately killed 787 people and belongs to the same family of coronaviruses as SARS.
The new virus wasn’t a match for either of those two, but it did belong to the same coronavirus family.
Coronaviruses are a large family of pathogens, and most cause mild respiratory infections – i.e. the common cold.
But because the SARS and MERS proved deadly, the emergence of another new coronavirus has health officials on edge around the world.
Like its two dangerous cousins, the new coronavirus appears to have originated with animals – particularly seafood, chickens, bats, marmots – found at a Wuhan market that’s been identified as the epicenter of the outbreak.
The symptoms of SARS, which may be similar to those of the new coronavirus, include:
- a high temperature (fever)
- extreme tiredness (fatigue)
- muscle pain
- loss of appetite
After these symptoms, the infection will begin to affect your lungs and airways (respiratory system), leading to additional symptoms, such as:
- a dry cough
- breathing difficulties
- an increasing lack of oxygen in the blood, which can be fatal in the most severe cases
So far, there isn’t a treatment for the new virus or SARS, though the new virus has been sequenced, allowing for rapid diagnostics.
Five new cases were confirmed in Beijing and 14 more in Guangdong province, the report said. Another statement confirmed a new case in Shanghai, bringing the number of known cases worldwide to 222.
‘People’s lives and health should be given top priority and the spread of the outbreak should be resolutely curbed,’ President Xi was quoted as saying by state television.
The virus belongs to the same family of coronaviruses as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 800 people globally during a 2002/03 outbreak that also started in China.
Its symptoms include fever and difficulty in breathing, which are similar to many other respiratory diseases and pose complications for screening efforts.
Zhong Nanshan, a respiratory expert and head of the health commission team investigating the outbreak, confirmed that two cases of infection in Guangdong province were due to human-to-human transmission, Xinhua said. Some medical staff have been infected, it added, but gave no number.
NEW CORONAVIRUS HAS TRAVELED BEYOND CHINA’S BORDERS
South Korea on Monday confirmed its first case, a 35-year-old Chinese national who had traveled from Wuhan, the fourth patient reported outside China.
Last week, two cases were reported in Thailand and one in Japan. All three involved people from Wuhan or who recently visited the city.
A report by London Imperial College’s MRC Center for Global Infectious Disease Analysis estimated that by January 12 there were 1,723 cases in Wuhan City with onset of related symptoms. Chinese health authorities have not commented directly on the report.
‘This outbreak is extremely concerning. Uncertainty and gaps remain, but it is now clear that there is person to person transmission,’ Farrar said.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Monday ‘an animal source’ appeared most likely to be the primary source of the outbreak and that some ‘limited human-to-human transmission’ occurred between close contacts.
The Geneva-based UN agency later convened an emergency committee for Wednesday to assess whether the outbreak constitutes an international health emergency and what measures should be taken to manage it.
So far, the WHO has not recommended trade or travel restrictions, but a panel of independent experts could do so or make other recommendations to limit spread.
China’s state council reiterated the government will step up prevention efforts and find the source of infection and transmission channels as soon as possible, state television said on Monday.
Shares in pharmaceutical firms and mask makers in China surged Monday because of the outbreak.
‘Who knows how many people who have been to Wuhan may be unaware that they have already been infected?,’ said one commentator on Chinese social media platform Weibo.
The state-run Global Times newspaper said in an editorial the government needs to disclose all information and not repeat the mistakes made with SARS.
Chinese officials covered up the SARS outbreak for weeks before a growing death toll and rumors forced it to reveal the epidemic.
‘Concealment would be a serious blow to the government’s credibility and might trigger greater social panic,’ the editorial said.
THE NEW CORONAVIRUS IN CHINA TIMELINE
December 31 2019: The WHO China Country Office was informed of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China. Around 44 suspected cases were reported in the month of December.
January 1 2020: A seafood market was closed for environmental sanitation and disinfection after being closely linked with the patients.
January 5 2020: Doctors ruled out severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) as being the cause of the virus, as well as bird flu, Middle East respiratory syndrome and adenovirus. Meanwhile, Hong Kong reported
January 9 2020: A preliminary investigation identified the respiratory disease as a new type of coronavirus, Chinese state media reported.
Officials at Wuhan Municipal Health Commission reported the outbreak’s first death on January 9, a 61-year-old man.
January 13 2020: A Chinese woman in Thailand was the first confirmed case of the mystery virus outside of China. The 61-year-old was quarantined on January 8, but has since returned home in a stable condition after having treatment, the Thai Health Ministry said.
January 14 2020: The WHO told hospitals around the globe to prepare, in the ‘possible’ event of the infection spreading.
It said there is some ‘limited’ human-to-human transmission of the virus. Two days previously, the UN agency said there was ‘no clear evidence of human to human transmission’.
January 16 2020: A man in Tokyo is confirmed to have tested positive for the disease after travelling to the Chinese city of Wuhan.
A second death, a 69-year-old man, was reported by officials at Wuhan Municipal Health Commission. He died in the early hours of January 15 at Jinyintan Hospital in Wuhan city having first been admitted to hospital on December 31.
January 17 2020: Thailand announces it has detected a second case. The 74-year-old woman had been quarantined since her arrival on Monday. She lived in Wuhan.
Scientists at Imperial College London fear up to 4,500 patients in Wuhan may have caught the virus. A report said if cases are this high, substantial human to human transmission can’t be ruled out.
John F Kennedy International Airport (JFK), San Francisco International Airport and Los Angles International Airport (LAX) will start screening passengers arriving from Wuhan, US officials said.
January 20 2020: China reported a sharp rise in the number of people infected with a new coronavirus over the weekend, including 136 more cases in Wuhan city.
The outbreak spread across China, as authorities in Shenzhen in southern China reported one case, and Chinese state media said Beijing had reported two cases.
South Korea confirmed its first case – a 35-year-old woman arriving at Seoul’s Incheon airport tested positive for the virus. She had been in Wuhan the week prior.
The total number of confirmed cases reached 205, including three deaths and four confirmed cases outside China.
Details were not revealed about the third death.
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