Countries around the world are stepping up efforts to tackle a new coronavirus (COVID-19) that originated in China’s Wuhan city.
The infection is now more widespread than the 2002-2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak, which also originated in China, in terms of affected people but not deaths.
The virus originated from a Wuhan seafood market where wild animals, including marmots, birds, rabbits, bats and snakes, are traded illegally. Coronaviruses are known to jump from animals to humans, so it’s thought that the first people infected with the disease – a group primarily made up of stallholders from the seafood market – contracted it from contact with animals.
Although an initial analysis of the virus suggested it was similar to coronavirus seen in snakes, it now seems more likely that it came from bats. A team of virologists at the Wuhan Institute for Virology released a detailed paper showing that the new coronaviruses’ genetic makeup is 96 per cent identical to that of a coronavirus found in bats. Some early cases of coronavirus, however, appear to have infected people with no link to the Wuhan market at all, suggesting that the initial route of human infection may pre-date the market cases.
The Wuhan market was shut down for inspection and cleaning on January 1, but by then it appears that the coronavirus was already starting to spread beyond the market itself. On January 21, the WHO Western Pacific office said that the the disease was also being transmitted between humans – evidence of which is apparent after medical staff became infected with the virus. Cases in Taiwan, Thailand, Germany, Vietnam, Japan, France and the United States also involved patients who had not been to China, implying that there has been some human-to-human transmission outside of China.
About Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses that are known to infect both humans and animals, and in humans causes respiratory illness that range from common colds to much more serious infections.
Symptoms of coronaviruses (COVID-19) are often mild – including runny noses, headaches, coughs and fevers – in some cases they lead to more serious respiratory tract illness including pneumonia and bronchitis. These can be particularly dangerous in older patients, or people who have existing health conditions, and this appears to be the case with this novel coronavirus. Of five early deaths where researchers had analysed the available medical history, four of them had underlying medical conditions that may have made them more vulnerable to the virus.
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