Mystery Virus In Wuhan Strikes 59 People; Chinese Rule Out SARS, MERS & Seasonal Flu

Chinese authorities have ruled out seasonal influenza, avian flu, adenovirus, SARS and MERS as the cause of a mysterious strain of pneumonia that has now stricken 59 people in the Chinese city of Wuhan, according to the latest data from WHO.

The unidentified virus, which has left seven people critically ill, may have emerged from the city’s large fish market, which also includes trade in exotic animals, the agency suggested.

Wuhan, China

“There is limited information to determine the overall risk of this reported cluster of pneumonia of unknown etiology. The reported link to a wholesale fish and live animal market could indicate an exposure link to animals,” stated the WHO report.

Some of the pneumonia victims were operating dealers or vendors in the Wuhan South China Seafood City, according to another report published by Chinese authorities on Friday.  The market has now been provisionally closed for hygiene and sanitation inspections.

Direct contact with animals is a common trigger for the emergence of new viruses in humans. As the infection is propagated, the virus can mutate and become transmissible from human to human, greatly increasing spread.

So far human-to-human transmission of the unidentified virus affecting Wuhan’s population has not been observed, said WHO: “Based on the preliminary information from the Chinese investigation team, no evidence of significant human-to-human transmission and no health care worker infections have been reported.”

The number of reported infections has more than doubled, however, in the week since the appearance of the pneumonia “of unknown cause” in 24 people in Wuhan was first reported to WHO by the Chinese authorities on 31 December.

There were clear concerns that the pneumonia may represent a new form of a coronavirus, which can be particularly deadly if it begins to spread from person to person, but experts said that more time was needed to identify the virus.

“I think we need to give them a couple of days but I want to hear something from a credible source on the investigations that are ongoing,” Marion Koopmans, director of the department of virology at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, was quoted by STAT News as saying.

In 2002, a deadly coronavirus, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV), was detected in China, after emerging from animal reservoirs such as bats to infect civet cats, which some Chinese consume, and then spreading more widely through human-to-human contact. SARS infected over 8000 people in more than two dozen countries over a period of 18 months before the epidemic was squashed. However, since that time, China’s outbreak detection and response capacity has improved considerably.

Middle East Respiratory syndrome (MERS-CoV), another deadly coronavirus strain, was first identified in Saudia Arabia in 2012 and killed some 851 of the nearly 2500 people infected with a case fatality rate of about 34%, according to WHO.

Coronaviruses consist of single-stranded of RNA genetic material; they belong to a family of viruses that infect both humans and animals.

Wuhan health authorities said that the patients’ symptoms mainly included fever, although some people had developed difficulties breahing and lesions on their lungs.  Some 120 close contacts of the pneumonia victims have been identified and placed under medical observation.  Pathogen identification and the tracing of the causes are underway, along with assessment of environmental sanitation and hygiene in the animal markets where the pneumonia is suspected to have emerged.

WHO said that it had requested more information from the Chinese authorities on laboratory tests that have so far been performed, however officials maintained an upbeat note: “Good to receive update information from #China on #pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan city,” declared World Health Organization Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in a tweet on Monday.

WHO said that it was not recommending any travel restrictions as a result of the mysterious outbreak, noting, “WHO advises against the application of any travel or trade restrictions on China based on the current information available on this event.”

Singapore and Hong Kong, however, both said that they had both set up measures to check travellers from China for signs of illness, following reports that some arrivals had displayed pneumonia-like symptoms. However, none of the suspected cases so far had been confirmed to be infected with the unidentified pneumonia strain, authorities in both cities said.

Wuhan, a city of 19 million people, is the capital of Hubei province.


Image Credits: Wikipedia .

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