The mysterious respiratory disease that emerged in China in late December is believed to be related to a seafood market held in Wuhan, central China. A new case was identified in Thailand by the WHO on Monday 13 January. The virus is said to have many similarities to SARS, which killed hundreds of people in Asia in the early 2000s.
A few weeks ago, Chinese authorities reported an outbreak of an unidentified respiratory disease in their territory. Today, a first case of this mysterious disease has been identified in Thailand. The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Monday, January 13, that the patient was a traveler from China. Hospitalized immediately, she is recovering from the disease. Even more alarming: despite reassuring statements from the authorities, this disease obviously belongs to the same family as Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which caused hundreds of deaths in Asia in 2002-2003.
This disease, which resembles pneumonia, appeared at the end of December in Wuhan, central China. Since then, at least 59 cases have been reported in the country and one 61-year-old man has died. According to the South China Morning Post, the origin of the disease has been identified: the patients are mainly traders at a fish market in Wuhan.
As a result, Wuhan municipality has ordered the closure of the market where disinfection and testing took place. “It seems very likely that the disease outbreak is associated with exposure to a seafood market in Wuhan. So far, none of the health workers have been affected and there is no tangible evidence of human-to-human transmission,” WHO said today.
Sharing the genetic sequence of the SARS virus
Since then, Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous region heavily affected by the SARS epidemic in 2002-2003, has taken precautions by starting the disinfection of trains and planes, as well as the screening of passengers. Especially since the epidemic occurred during the busiest travel period of the year, the Lunar New Year holiday. As a result, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing also advised Americans who travel around the country to avoid animals and contact with sick people.
On Saturday, January 11, the Hong Kong Health Department announced that the genetic sequence of the virus found in one of Wuhan’s patients showed that it was 80% similar to SARS found in bats. Sharing this sequence “allows more countries to diagnose patients quickly,” the WHO said.
The virus has a “coronavirus-like morphology,” characterized by a crown shape visible under an electron microscope. However, its mode of transmission, its origin and incubation period are still unknown.
“The possibility of cases being identified in other countries was not unexpected and reinforces why the WHO is calling for active surveillance and continued preparedness in other countries,” the organization said before proceeding: “In view of the evolving situation, the Director-General of WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, will consult with the members of the Emergency Committee and may convene a meeting of the Committee in the short term. However, investigations should continue in China to identify the origin of the outbreak and any intermediate animal reservoirs or hosts, the statement concludes.