With the number of cases continuing to rise at a startling rate, it's looking like the deadly Wuhan coronavirus outbreak is only set to get worse before it can get better.
At least 2,794 cases of the novel coronavirus – including 81 deaths, so far all in China – have been reported across the world, according to a live tracking dashboard created by Johns Hopkins University. Chinese authorities currently report a further 5,794 suspected cases.
While the huge majority of cases are in mainland China, it has now been confirmed in 14 countries around the world, with eight cases reported in Hong Kong and Thailand respectively, six in Macau, five in the US, four each in Australia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, and Taiwan, three each in France and South Korea, two in Vietnam, one in Canada, and one in Nepal.
Currently known as 2019-nCoVs, the pathogen belongs to the coronavirus family, which also includes SARS, the notorious respiratory illness that started in China in 2002 and went on to kill 774 people around the world
A top Chinese health official warned on Sunday that the spread of 2019-nCoVs is gaining momentum. Ma Xiaowei, minister of China's National Health Commission, told reporters that the virus doesn’t appear to be as “powerful” as SARS, however, it is infectious during the incubation period, between exposure and the first appearance of symptoms.
“If this transmission mode is contributing significantly then control becomes increasingly difficult. It’s looking like this coronavirus is behaving very differently to SARS and MERS, and this is a big concern,” commented Professor Jonathan Ball, Professor of Molecular Virology at the University of Nottingham.
The Lunar New Year celebrations have just come to close in China, typically a time of festivity that sees millions of people travel both domestically and internationally. In a bid to further contain the coronavirus epidemic, China has extended the Spring Festival holiday period and has postponed school reopenings. Fifteen cities across China, with a combined population of over 57 million people, have been placed under full or partial lockdown.
The virus was first reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019. It was initially suspected to be linked to a seafood wholesale market here since many of the early cases were linked to the location and it was reported to sell wild animals. However, research published in The Lancet on Friday suggests that the seafood market may not be the culprit as patient zero had no reported connection to the market. It was also briefly believed to have spread to humans from snakes, but further study has since claimed that bats are the most likely culprit.
“This is a new virus,” explains Dr Charles Chiu, a UC San Francisco infectious disease expert. “I would like to stress that there’s a lot about this virus we don’t know at this point in the outbreak.”
“However, we do know that there’s very little diversity in the genome sequence. The 24 viral genomes that have been sequenced, some from China, others from Japan and Thailand, are nearly identical. What that means is that the actual zoonotic animal-to-human transmission event occurred very recently, and that China may have detected it very early in the course of the outbreak.”
2019-nCoV infects the respiratory system and causes a number of lung problems, most notably pneumonia. Like most infectious diseases, you can help to protect yourself by frequently washing your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or warm water and soap. Also, cover your sneezes and coughs with a flexed elbow or tissue and avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever or cough.