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China confirms new SARS-like virus HAS spread between humans as 14 medics catch the killer infection

China has confirmed the new SARS-like virus that has killed three people has spread between humans. 

China’s National Health Commission team said 14 healthcare workers had caught the respiratory virus while treating patients. 

Two patients in southern China also caught the virus from infected family members, according to local media. 

They had not visited Wuhan city, where the outbreak is centred and believed to have come from an animal source.  

Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market in Wuhan city has been under investigation since January 1 as scientists scramble to determine the mode of transmission.

But there is now ‘affirmative’ evidence the pneumonia-causing virus could be passed through coughing, sneezing, or other bodily fluids.

A total of 222 across the Asia have now tested positive for the virus – a sharp increase from the 48 on January 17. 

It comes ahead of Lunar New Year, which will see millions of Chinese citizens travelling abroad.

Three countries have also reported cases of the virus – Thailand, Japan and South Korea. 

All four patients had visited Wuhan, home to 11million people. Some 3,300 people fly out from the city’s airport every day.

The unnamed novel virus has infected an estimated 1,700 in Wuhan, China. Authorities said the virus had spread to other cities in China. The total confirmed cases has tipped 200 and three have died. Four confirmed cases are outside China in Thailand, Japan, and South Korea

Two patients in southern China have caught the virus from infected family members, according to local media. Pictured, Chinese residents wear masks in Wuhan

Two patients in southern China have caught the virus from infected family members, according to local media. Pictured, Chinese residents wear masks in Wuhan

Professor Zhong Nanshan, a renowned scientist at the National Health Commission, said human-to-human transmission is ‘affirmative’, in a press conference. 

‘Currently, it can be said it is affirmative that there is the phenomenon of human-to-human transmission,’ he said, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

He added: ‘It has also been proved that medical workers had been infected… [They] worked around a patient carrying the new strain of coronavirus… and 14 of them in total.’  

The two patients understood to have contracted the virus from their family are in Guangdong. They never visited Wuhan themselves.  

Details about the healthcare workers have not yet come to light and only been discussed by Professor Nanshan.  

The World Health Organization (WHO) said earlier an animal source seemed to be ‘the most likely primary source’ of the virus.

Investigations have focused on a food market in Wuhan where most of the first detected patients worked or visited.

Known as a ‘zoonotic disease’, it was believed harmful germs had spread from animals in the market to workers or visitors. 

On January 14, the WHO said there was ‘limited’ human-to-human transmission of the virus, just two days before it said there was ‘no clear evidence of human to human transmission’.   

China reported on January 20 the mysterious virus had spread across the country from Wuhan. Pictured, medical staff at Jinyintan hospital, Wuhan

China reported on January 20 the mysterious virus had spread across the country from Wuhan. Pictured, medical staff at Jinyintan hospital, Wuhan

Over the weekend, 136 fresh infections were reported in Wuhan, bringing the total number of cases China has confirmed to more than 200

Over the weekend, 136 fresh infections were reported in Wuhan, bringing the total number of cases China has confirmed to more than 200 

The majority of patients have been traced to the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market (pictured)

The majority of patients have been traced to the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market (pictured)


What is this virus?

The virus has been identified as a new type of coronavirus. 

Coronaviruses are a large family of pathogens, and most cause mild respiratory infections such as the common cold. 

But coronaviruses can also be deadly. SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, is caused by the SARS coronavirus, which killed hundreds of people in China and Hong Kong in the early 2000s.

Why hasn’t it been named yet?

The virus has not been named, although commonly goes by ‘nCoV2019’, which stands for novel coronavirus 2019.

When a virus slowly emerges as this has, scientists have to work quickly to understand it’s severity, how it is spread and how deadly it is.

Jeremy Farrar, a specialist in infectious disease epidemics and director of the Wellcome Trust global health charity, said he thinks the virus will be named over the coming weeks and months because it is the ‘least important decision at the moment’.

What symptoms does it cause?

Its symptoms are typically a fever, cough and trouble breathing, but some patients have developed pneumonia, a potentially life-threatening infection that causes inflammation of the small air sacs in the lungs.

People carrying the novel coronavirus may only have mild symptoms, such as a sore throat. They may assume they have a common cold and not seek medical attention, experts fear.

How is it detected?

When the outbreak started in December 2019, The Wuhan Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said hospitals across the city have treated a ‘successive series of patients with unexplained pneumonia’.

After investigations, a new, never-before-seen strain of coronavirus was identified and reported on January 9.

The virus’s genetic sequencing was released by scientists in China to rest of the world to enable other countries to quickly diagnose potential new cases. This helps other countries respond quickly to disease outbreaks. 

To contain the virus, airports are detecting infected people with temperature checks. But with every virus, there is an incubation period, meaning detection is not always possible because symptoms have not appeared yet.

The incubation period of nCov2019 is not known. Research by Imperial College London suggested there is a 10-day window between someone being infected and detected, based on the evidence so far. 

Can it kill?

Three people have so far died after testing positive for the virus. The first two patients who died suffered other health problems, so it is possible the virus is more lethal in vulnerable people.

The first patient, a 61-year-old-man, had abdominal tumours and chronic liver disease. The second, who was 69, had severe cardiomyopathy – a heart condition, abnormal kidney function, and seriously damaged organs.

Details about the third death have not been revealed.

How is it spread?

Investigations have focused on animals as the source because the majority of the first infected patients in Wuhan were traced to the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market, which has been shut down since January 1.

On January 14, the World Health Organization said there is some ‘limited’ human-to-human transmission of the virus.

Professor Zhong Nanshan, a renowned scientist at China’s National Health Commission, said human-to-human transmission is ‘affirmative’, in a press conference on January 20.

Two patients in southern China caught the virus from infected family members, according to local media. They had not visited Wuhan.

Paul Hunter, professor of health protection at the University of East Anglia, said for a virus to be problematic, it must be capable of spreading between people. 

He told MailOnline: ‘If it’s going to cause problems around the world, it has got to spread from person to person. If it’s from an animal, it won’t be as important.’ 

The coronavirus – which has never been seen before – was first discovered in the city of Wuhan in December. 

It is from the same family as two viruses that turned into global killers: SARS and MERS, both of which can be transferred between humans. 

Scientists first thought that only animals transmitted SARS to humans. But it soon became apparent that SARS could spread between humans.

SARS started in southern China and killed more than 700 people in mainland China, Hong Kong and elsewhere in the early 2000s.

Similarly, it took ‘a while’ for scientists to spot that MERS could be spread between people, according to Professor Paul Kellam, department of infectious disease at Imperial College London.

‘It doesn’t mean the new virus will spread uncontrollably,’ he told MailOnline.

MERS was discovered in Saudi Arabia in September 2012 and has killed around 850 people. So far, all cases of MERS have been linked through travel to, or residence in, countries in and near the Arabian Peninsula. 

Jeremy Farrar, a specialist in infectious disease epidemics and director of the Wellcome Trust global health charity, raised concerns about the number of people travelling through Wuhan.

He said: ‘Wuhan is a major hub and with travel being a huge part of the fast approaching Chinese New Year, the concern level must remain high. 

‘There is more to come from this outbreak.’

He added that coughing is the ‘quickest way to spread an infection around the world’. 

‘Whenever you get something new happening in humans, especially when it is spread by coughing, it is always a worry. It could get worse, it could get better – but you have to plan for it getting worse,’ Mr Farrar told MailOnline.

On January 17, there were 48 confirmed cases of the novel Chinese virus worldwide, 45 of which were in Wuhan.  

The total has jumped up to 222 over two days, including four people in other countries and 20 in other areas of China.   

Five new cases in Beijing and 14 in the Guangdong province have been confirmed. 

Suspected cases have also cropped up in Sichuan, Yunnan, Shanghai, Guangxi and Shandong. Tests have yet to confirm the patients have the coronavirus.

Five other people have been put in isolation and tested in eastern Zhejiang province. 

South Korea confirmed its first case on January 20 after a 35-year-old woman arriving at Seoul’s Incheon airport tested positive for the virus. She had been in Wuhan last week. 

Last week, one case was confirmed in Japan and two in Thailand, meaning the total number of confirmed cases outside of China now sits at four. 

A British tourist fighting for his life in Thailand is feared to be the first Western victim, but this has not been confirmed. 

Ash Shorley, 32, is in critical condition in a hospital in Phuket after being struck down with a lung infection while visiting Koh Phi Phi island. 

Mr Shorley had to be transported to hospital by a specialised seaplane because his lung had collapsed and he could not cope with high altitude travel. 

Doctors revealed his symptoms were consistent with the Chinese coronavirus. He has been in hospital for nearly a month.

Three people have died from the virus, two of which were males in their 60s. Details of the third patient have not been revealed.  

An analysis from Imperial College London last week estimated the number of cases in Wuhan was probably around 1,700 – but could even be as high as 4,500. 

The team did not look at how the virus may be transmitted, but said ‘past experience with SARS and MERS-CoV outbreaks of similar scale suggests currently self-sustaining human-to-human transmission should not be ruled out.’ 


December 31 2019: The WHO China Country Office was informed of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China. Around 44 suspected cases were reported in the month of December.

January 1 2020: A seafood market was closed for environmental sanitation and disinfection after being closely linked with the patients.

January 5 2020: Doctors ruled out severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) as being the cause of the virus, as well as bird flu, Middle East respiratory syndrome and adenovirus. Meanwhile, Hong Kong reported 

January 9 2020: A preliminary investigation identified the respiratory disease as a new type of coronavirus, Chinese state media reported.

Officials at Wuhan Municipal Health Commission reported the outbreak’s first death on January 9, a 61-year-old man.  

January 13 2020: A Chinese woman in Thailand was the first confirmed case of the mystery virus outside of China. The 61-year-old was quarantined on January 8, but has since returned home in a stable condition after having treatment, the Thai Health Ministry said. 

January 14 2020: The WHO told hospitals around the globe to prepare, in the ‘possible’ event of the infection spreading.

It said there is some ‘limited’ human-to-human transmission of the virus. Two days previously, the UN agency said there was ‘no clear evidence of human to human transmission’.

January 16 2020: A man in Tokyo is confirmed to have tested positive for the disease after travelling to the Chinese city of Wuhan.

A second death, a 69-year-old man, was reported by officials at Wuhan Municipal Health Commission. He died in the early hours of January 15 at Jinyintan Hospital in Wuhan city having first been admitted to hospital on December 31.

January 17 2020: Thailand announces it has detected a second case. The 74-year-old woman had been quarantined since her arrival on Monday. She lived in Wuhan.

Scientists at Imperial College London fear up to 4,500 patients in Wuhan may have caught the virus. A report said if cases are this high, substantial human to human transmission can’t be ruled out.

John F Kennedy International Airport (JFK), San Francisco International Airport and Los Angles International Airport (LAX) will start screening passengers arriving from Wuhan, US officials said.   

January 20 2020: China reported a sharp rise in the number of people infected with a new coronavirus over the weekend, including 136 more cases in Wuhan city.

The outbreak spread across China, as authorities in Shenzhen in southern China reported one case, and Chinese state media said Beijing had reported two cases. 

South Korea confirmed its first case – a 35-year-old woman arriving at Seoul’s Incheon airport tested positive for the virus. She had been in Wuhan the week prior.

The total number of confirmed cases reached 205, including three deaths and four confirmed cases outside China.   

Details were not revealed about the third death. 


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