A new virus that is thought to be in the same family as SARS has been confirmed outside of China for the first time.
The virus has so far been found in 41 people in the city of Wuhan, China. The patients have all developed pneumonia or severe respiratory tract infections, and many have had difficulty breathing. The total number of confirmed cases is down from 59 earlier in January when the cause of the virus was unknown.
One death has been reported – a 61-year-old male who showed up to hospital with respiratory failure and severe pneumonia. He was given treatment and put on life support, but died on January 9. The patient, who has not been named, tested positive for the new coronavirus – a family of viruses that contains illnesses from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) to Severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus (SARS) and the common cold.
The disease had been contained within China, but the World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed that they are working with officials in Thailand following confirmation of the virus in a patient recently returned from China.
The patient was hospitalized on January 8, Thai officials have said, and is recovering from the illness. They had traveled from Wuhan, where it's believed they got sick.
"The possibility of cases being identified in other countries was not unexpected, and reinforces why WHO calls for on-going active monitoring and preparedness in other countries," the WHO said in a statement.
It has issued guidance on how to detect and treat persons ill with the "novel coronavirus" as it is being called, advising members of the public to wash their hands regularly, cover their mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cook meat and eggs, and avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness.
The WHO Director-General will now consult the Emergency Committee members and "could call for a meeting of the committee on short notice".
Investigations into the source of the outbreak continue in China, whilst the government has shared genetic sequencing data in order to help other countries rapidly diagnose patients.
The disease so far has not been found to spread from human to human.
"Most of the unexplained viral pneumonia cases in Wuhan this time have a history of exposure to the South China seafood market," representatives of the city of Wuhan said in a statement. "No clear evidence of human-to-human transmission has been found".
SARS – which affected over 8,000 people in 37 countries and killed 774 in an outbreak between November 2002 and July 2003 – was believed to have been spread to humans from bat populations. Because it did not spread easily from human to human, authorities were able to contain and end the outbreak once proper control practices were observed.