A never-before-seen virus first discovered in the Chinese city of Wuhanand infected over 4,000 Chinese people with pneumonia, according to the Chinese Health Commission. The known as 201
On Friday, the French authorities confirmed three cases within France, the first known cases in Europe, and Australia announced its four. On Sunday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a fifth case in the U.S., this time in Arizona. According to the CDC, 110 cases are currently being examined for possible infections in over 20 US states.
Scientists have not yet fully understood the destructive potential of the new 2019 nCoV virus. Researchers and researchers are just beginning to find out where it comes from, how it is transmitted and how widespread it has been.
On Monday morning, confirmed case numbers had reached more than 4,200 in China and abroad. The Chinese authorities also confirmed that healthcare professionals have been infected with the virus, suggesting that human-to-human transmission is possible.
The authorities take measures to prevent the spread of 2019-nCoV. On Thursday a special WHO committee decided that it was too early to declare a health emergency on a global level. On Saturday, however, Hong Kong declared a citywide emergency as the highest warning level. All official Chinese New Year celebrations have been canceled and school holidays have been extended until February 17th. Also on Saturday, China said that Monday would be short of travel for some of its citizens traveling abroad, including suspending tour groups and temporarily stopping the sale of flight and hotel packages.
The State Department announced on Sunday that it chartered a flight to evacuate Americans from Wuhan on Tuesday. It will take them to San Francisco, where they will be screened for the virus upon landing.
The situation is developing rapidly. We've put together everything we know about the mystery virus, what's next for researchers, and what steps you can take to reduce your risk.
What is a corona virus?
Coronaviruses belong to a family known as Coronaviridae and look like spiked rings under an electron microscope. They are named after these spines, which form a halo around their viral envelope.
Coronaviruses contain an RNA strand in their shell and cannot multiply without entering living cells and hijacking their machinery. The spikes on the viral envelope help them bind to cells, which helps them find a way in. It's like opening the door with C4. Inside, they transform the cell into a virus factory and use their molecular conveyor belt to produce more viruses that are then dispatched. The virus progeny infect other cells and the cycle starts again.
These types of viruses typically occur in animals, which range from farm animals and domestic animals to wild animals such as bats. When jumping to people, they can cause fever, respiratory problems, and inflammation in the lungs. Such viruses can cause serious respiratory diseases in immunocompromised people such as the elderly or people with HIV-AIDS.
Extremely pathogenic coronaviruses stood behind SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS and could easily be transmitted from person to person. SARS, which occurred in the early 2000s, infected more than 8,000 people and resulted in nearly 800 deaths. MERS, which emerged in the early 2010s, infected nearly 2,500 people and resulted in more than 850 deaths.
Where did the virus come from?
The virus appears to have its origins in the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, a Chinese city about 950 km south of Beijing, where more than 11 million people live. Fish and meat from other animals such as bats and snakes are sold on the market. The Wuhan market was closed on January 1st.
Markets have been involved in the development and spread of viral diseases in previous epidemics, and a large majority of people have confirmed that they have been infected with this corona virus in the past few weeks. The market seems to be an integral part of the puzzle, but researchers need to do a number of experiments and tests to confirm the virus's origin.
"Testing animals in the Wuhan area, including sampling from markets, will provide more information," said Raina MacIntyre, director of the Biosafety Research Program at the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales.
A report by a Chinese research team in the Journal of Medical Virology on Wednesday indicated that snakes were the most likely wildlife reservoir for 2019-nCoV. The work examined the genetic code of the virus and compared it to that of two types of snakes, the multi-volume krait and the Chinese cobra. The investigation showed that the snake's genetic code is very similar to the virus.
Shortly thereafter, two preprint studies disproved these claims and suggested that 2019-nCoV is likely to come from bats.