What we know — and don’t know — about a new virus causing pneumonia in China
A mysterious outbreak of pneumonia in central China has preliminarily been pegged to a replacement coronavirus, but the planet Health Organization says there’s no got to panic. Chinese officials have reported little evidence thus far of human-to-human transmission, the WHO says, making a plague less likely.
Coronaviruses can cause a good sort of illnesses, from a standard cold to the more severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. a worldwide outbreak of SARS that began in China in 2003 killed 774 people and infected thousands more (SN: 3/26/03). a special coronavirus sparked another deadly outbreak in 2012, with the illness called Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, killing quite 800 people (SN: 7/8/16). Both of these outbreaks began with the virus jumping from animals to humans, and accelerated by spreading among people.
In December, reports emerged of mysterious pneumonia cases within the central Chinese city of Wuhan, with 59 cases confirmed as of January 5. Some patients were vendors at a seafood market selling chicken, bats and other wild animals, raising suspicions of another zoonosis . Early tests ruled out viruses related to SARS, MERS, influenza and other known pathogens.
But the culprit was indeed a coronavirus, one that scientists hadn’t seen before. Chinese investigators identified the new coronavirus from genetic material obtained from one patient, the WHO said during a statement on January 9. Here’s what we all know — and what we don’t know — about the new virus.
What can we know thus far about this virus?
“We don’t know an entire lot at now ,” says Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore. “It seems to be a completely unique coronavirus which will produce viral infection , which was severe in some cases.”
No deaths are reported thus far from the virus. Doctors are going to be monitoring how current patients fare, and trying to urge a way of whether the virus impacts people with immune systems that are already susceptible to better assess the threat from this new virus.
“We don’t [yet] know the last word outcome of ongoing cases, or whether those individuals had preexisting conditions,” she says.
Do we skills this virus is spreading?
Chinese officials say the virus doesn’t readily transmit between humans. While Nuzzo says it’s timely to understand needless to say , she agrees that “there doesn’t seem to be evidence of sustained person-to-person transmission. We haven’t seen numbers [of infected] that might make us concerned that possibility.”
During previous deadly coronavirus outbreaks, health care workers were among the primary to urge sick as those viruses jumped from human to human, says communicable disease physician Amesh Adalja, also at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “So far, no health care workers or caregivers [who were] not at that fish market are reported ill, which suggests the virus doesn’t transmit efficiently between humans,” he says.
Still, Adalja doesn’t rule it out as an opportunity . Whether the virus is transmissible between people “still must be completely determined.”
Should people be worried?
For now, the outbreak seems to be contained, with no new cases reported since December 29. The WHO says it’s monitoring things , and hasn’t recommended any travel restrictions.
Still, “anytime there’s a completely unique virus that appears that’s causing critical illness, it merits concern,” Adalja says. “Right now, there’s no cause for panic.”
What are subsequent steps for public health scientists?
Once the virus’s genetic information is formed available, scientists are going to be ready to compare it with other known viruses to ascertain if it’s more closely associated with common cold-type triggers or the more deadly varieties that caused SARS or MERS.
But in terms of assessing the threat of this outbreak, “we actually need more data,” Adalja says. Experts are going to be combing through patient histories to work out how severe the illness can become and who could be especially vulnerable. Authorities also will got to get on the lookout for brand spanking new cases. “It’s important to remain vigilant,” he says.
Both Nuzzo and Adalja hope this outbreak sparks renewed interest in researching coronaviruses and developing vaccines and coverings .
“It’s been 17 years since SARS, and that we still don’t have any coronavirus vaccine. We don’t have any coronavirus antivirals,” Adalja says. “The only way we will take outbreaks like these off the table is to develop countermeasures against them.