The Wuhan Coronavirus Outbreak in China: What We Know So Far

The Wuhan Coronavirus is spreading fast with various countries increasing screening measures. Here's what you need to know.
Chris Young

At the time of writing Wuhan in China has been put on lockdown due to a recently detected coronavirus that is taking lives and has infected many.

As always, when something of this magnitude happens, there will be a lot of information doing the rounds. While it is always important to keep informed, it is also important not to panic.

The virus is yet to be called a global health emergency, and initial reports say that, though it is dangerous, it is not as aggressive as similar strands of viruses like SARS. We've put together some of the most important things you need to know.


1. It is a new strain of virus similar to SARS

As Gulf News reports, the new coronavirus is SARS-like, having originated in animals in the Hubei province of China. Arnaud Fontanet, head of the department of epidemiology at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, told AFP that the new virus strain, which has been officially named "2019-nCoV," is 80 percent genetically identical to SARS.

It has already spread to the United States and fears are mounting as hundreds of millions are set to travel for the upcoming Lunar New Year celebrations starting on Friday.

Many countries are stepping up screening efforts at borders, with checks at airports from travelers coming in from China and other affected countries.

2. 26 people have died, many more infected

The current rising death toll sits at 26 people and there are more than 800 confirmed cases of people infected by the virus, the BBC reports. The latest affected countries are Singapore, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam.

The WHO said on Monday it believes an animal source was the "primary source" of the outbreak. Wuhan authorities identified a seafood market as the center of the epidemic. Now, Wuhan, the city at the heart of the epidemic has locked down its population of 11 million and is not allowing them to travel. Other cities in China are also starting to restrict travel, as per the BBC.

3. It's being passed between humans

There is evidence that the virus is passing from person to person. According to Gulf News approximately 1,400 people are currently under medical observation due to symptoms that might mean they are carrying the virus. 

Nathalie MacDermott of King's College London said on Science Alert that the virus is most likely spreading through droplets in the air passed on by people sneezing or coughing. Symptoms include aching muscles, a runny nose, and a sore throat. 

4. Initial observations say it is not as dangerous as SARS

Some experts are claiming the new virus is not as dangerous as other coronaviruses in the same family, including SARS, and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which has been responsible for the death of more than 700 people since 2012.

"The early evidence at this stage would suggest it's not as severe a disease as SARS or MERS," Australia's Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said, according to Gulf News.

The symptoms appear to be less aggressive than those of SARS. According to authorities in Wuhan, 25 of the more than 200 people infected in the city have already been discharged.

"It's difficult to compare this disease with SARS," said Zhong Nanshan, a scientist at China's National Health Commission at a press conference this week. "It's mild. The condition of the lung is not like SARS."

5. It is likely to spread despite travel ban

“The problem with social distancing is that we have very little evidence that it works,” Larry Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University, told Wired.

“At most, it might delay for a short time an outbreak, but it’s very unlikely to stop the progressive spread.”

Understandably, locking down a city with a population of 11 million is an incredibly tall order. Especially as there will be panic within the city with many wishing to leave. Countless travelers will have also left Wuhan between the time of the first known infection and the enforcement of the travel ban. 

6. The disease likely originated in unregulated exotic meat

As per the BBCauthorities have stated that the virus originated in a seafood market in Wuhan that "conducted illegal transactions of wild animals". The market has been closed since January. 

Various sources have said the virus could have originated from the snakes or bats sold illegally at the market, though this has yet to be confirmed and differing reports are still being disputed.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said it is a "bit too early" to declare this a global health emergency. More time is needed, but if it does make the declaration, the international response will become even more focused on detecting and containing the virus.

Edit 01/24/20: The article was edited to show the latest death toll as well as updates on the origin of the virus and the WHO's latest statement.

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