Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause respiratory illnesses such as the common cold, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Most people get infected with coronaviruses at one point in their lives, but symptoms are typically mild to moderate. In some cases, the viruses can cause lower-respiratory tract illnesses such as pneumonia and bronchitis.
These viruses are common amongst animals worldwide, but only a handful of them are known to affect humans. Rarely, coronaviruses can evolve and spread from animals to humans. This is what happened with the coronaviruses known as the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-Cov), both of which are known to cause more severe symptoms.
How many persons have coronavirus?
As of Jan. 23, there are more than 500 confirmed cases and 17 deaths linked to the 2019-nCoV virus in China, according to the BBC. The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Jan. 20 that 51 of the patients are “severely ill,” and 12 are in “critical condition.”
Which city is affected?
The first cases of the pneumonia-like virus were reported in Wuhan, China on Dec. 31, 2019. Since then, the virus has spread to various other countries, including Thailand, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the United States (a man in Washington state was confirmed to have the virus after returning to the U.S. from Wuhan on Jan. 15, becoming the first case in the U.S., officials announced on Jan. 21).
Where did the virus come from?
Since the virus first popped up in Wuhan in people who had visited a local seafood and animal market, officials could only say it likely hopped from an animal to humans. In a new study, however, researchers sequenced the genes of 2019-nCoV (as the virus is now called), and then they compared it with the genetic sequences of more than 200 coronaviruses that infect various animals around the world. Their results, detailed in the Journal of Medical Virology, suggested that 2019-nCoV likely originated in snakes.
As for what kind of snake, the scientists noted there are two snakes that are common to southeastern China where the outbreak originated: the many-banded krait (Bungarus multicinctus) and the Chinese cobra (Naja atra).
What are the symptoms caused by the Wuhan coronavirus?
The virus causes pneumonia. Those who have fallen ill are reported to suffer coughs, fever and breathing difficulties. In severe cases there can be organ failure. As this is viral pneumonia, antibiotics are of no use. The antiviral drugs we have against flu will not work. If people are admitted to hospital, they may get support for their lungs and other organs as well as fluids. Recovery will depend on the strength of their immune system. Many of those who have died are known to have been already in poor health.
Is the virus being transmitted from one person to another?
Human to human transmission has been confirmed by China’s national health commission. As of 24 January the Chinese authorities had acknowledged 830 cases and 26 deaths. In the past week, the number of confirmed infections has more than tripled and cases have been found in 13 provinces, as well as the municipalities Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing and Tianjin. The virus has also been confirmed outside China, in the US, Thailand, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan. There have not been any confirmed cases in the UK at present, but there is definitely potential for cases to emerge. The actual number to have contracted the virus could be far higher as people with mild symptoms may not have been detected. Modelling by WHO experts at Imperial College London suggests there could be 4,000 cases, with uncertainty putting the margins between 1,000 and 9,700.