Coronavirus in China (2020/02/03)

On Dec 31, 2019, China alerted WHO to several cases of pneumonia associated with an unknown virus. The cases were concentrated in Wuhan City, in Hubei Province in central China, home to 11 million people. By Jan 7, 2020, there was confirmation that a new type of coronavirus had emerged. It was temporarily named 2019-nCoV. It is the seventh identified coronavirus that can cause diseases of the respiratory tract in humans. On Jan 9, there was the first reported death from 2019-nCoV—a 61-year-old man who had visited the now-closed Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, where the virus is thought to have originated.

As of Jan 30, 2020, 7736 confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV had been reported in China, with a further 12 167 suspected cases. There had been 1370 severe cases, and 170 deaths. A few dozen additional cases had been detected in 18 countries around the world, of which only seven cases had no history of travel in China.

Human-to-human transmission of 2019-nCoV has been confirmed, with an R0 of 1·4–2·5. Many more cases are expected. On Jan 30, 2020, WHO declared a public health emergency of international concern. “The main reason for this declaration is not because of what is happening in China, but because of what is happening in other countries”, commented WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom.

More information on the clinical presentation of infection with 2019-nCoV is emerging. The elderly and those with co-morbidities are at greatest risk of death. “The deaths appear to be related to acute respiratory distress syndrome”, said Jimmy Whitworth (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK). “The severity of the disease seems to be linked with a cytokine storm.” The estimate for the incubation period is 2–10 days. Diagnostic tests have been produced, but there is no specific treatment for those who are infected. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations has announced that it will fund three programmes to develop vaccines against the new coronavirus, but this is unlikely to affect the course of the current outbreak.

Author: Talha Khan Burki