With Tuesday’s announcement that a Washington State man has been diagnosed with the Wuhan coronavirus, global health officials are evaluating the situation and doling out advice on how to avoid it – while noting that chances of getting it are low.
The respiratory virus has already killed at least six people in China, and has sickened hundreds of others across Asia.
The World Health Organization is convening experts on the virus Wednesday to determine whether the outbreak constitutes an official international public health emergency, USA Today reported Tuesday.
CDC confirms first case of Wuhan coronavirus in U.S. »
WHO issued advice on how to avoid getting the potentially deadly virus. This includes commonsense precautions that one would use to avoid flu or any other illness, such as washing hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer; covering one’s nose and mouth when coughing; avoiding close contact with a sick person; cooking meat and eggs thoroughly, and avoiding “unprotected contact” with live animals in the wild or on farms.
Symptoms are similar to any cold or flu, with only rare cases turning fatal, the Associated Press noted.
Signs include runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat, fever and “a general feeling of being unwell,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Common human coronaviruses, including types 229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1, usually cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses, like the common cold,” the CDC said on its information page. “Most people get infected with these viruses at some point in their lives. These illnesses usually only last for a short amount of time.”
This outbreak appears a bit more severe, and is a newly identified strain that WHO and the CDC have been monitoring since the end of December.
Occurring just ahead of the high-travel Lunar New Year holiday, the outbreak has already affected 300 people and killed a half dozen, all in China. In addition, Thailand has seen two confirmed cases, and Japan, South Korea and the U.S. have seen one each.
Coronavirus is a zoonotic disease, meaning it begins in animals and evolves into something that can be contracted by humans. And the latest outbreak makes it clear that this particular strain has not only jumped to humans but can also now be spread human-to-human – though, as WHO noted, it takes “close contact.”
There are many types of coronavirus, some of which cause the common cold, but others – found in bats, camels and other animals – that have evolved into more severe illnesses, AP said. These include severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, and Middle East respiratory syndrome, known as MERS.
WHO has deemed this one “novel” coronavirus. It causes a type of pneumonia.
“A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans,” the international health organization said on its information page about the illness. “An animal source seems the most likely primary source of this novel coronavirus outbreak, with some limited human-to-human transmission occurring between close contacts.”
China’s version apparently started in a wholesale seafood market in Wuhan, a city in Hubei Province in central China, according to CNBC.
To date there have been 260 cases recorded in that province and about 30 in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, AP said. Chinese health officials said Monday that a few cases of human-to-human transmission had been confirmed, Reuters reported, including some infected health care workers.
More severe cases of coronavirus can cause pneumonia or bronchitis, the CDC said, but that’s more common in people with cardiopulmonary disease, people with weakened immune systems, infants and older adults. The cases outside China occurred in people who had recently traveled to Wuhan, and most of those who died were 60 or older, the CDC said. And many of them had underlying health conditions that hindered their ability to fight the infection, Chinese officials told Reuters.
“So far, the virus appears less dangerous and infectious than SARS, which also started in China and killed about 800 people,” AP noted. “Viruses can mutate into more dangerous and contagious forms, and it’s too early to say what will happen with this one.”