The world’s experts are closely monitoring updates on a new virus that has affected almost 60 patients in China, following reports that it is different but related to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
First identified in December, the virus has been linked to a food market that sells animals and seafood in Wuhan, a city in central China. The health commission tasked to investigate said the infection broke out from December 12 to 29, with some of the seafood market employees reportedly infected. A number of the patients have reportedly been seriously ill although no one has died.
Some initially feared that it is the flu-like virus SARS, which killed hundreds of people more than a decade ago. But the Wuhan health commission reportedly said that it is not SARS, avian flu, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which had also killed hundreds of people several years ago.
Instead, Chinese state media reported that it is a new coronavirus.
Coronaviruses infect the upper respiratory and gastrointestinal tract of humans, other mammals and birds. Its name is derived from the Latin word corona, which means halo or crown, because of the appearance of the virus under a microscope.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are six coronaviruses that can infect people. Four are common around the world while the two others – SARS and MERS – are coronaviruses that originally infected animals but evolved to infect people.
According to reports from China, the newest and unnamed coronavirus was discovered from samples of 15 of the 59 patients from Wuhan.
In a statement, World Health Organization said that Chinese investigators were able to conduct gene sequencing of the virus. “Preliminary identification of a novel virus in a short period of time is a notable achievement and demonstrates China’s increased capacity to manage new outbreaks,” WHO said.
ANIMAL TO HUMAN
WHO explained that coronaviruses, of which the new illness belongs to, is a “large family of viruses with some causing less-severe disease, such as the common cold, and others more severe disease such as MERS and SARS.” Some can be transmitted from person to person. The virus being investigated is thought to be a disease that is transmissible from animal to human.
“According to Chinese authorities, the virus in question can cause severe illness in some patients and does not transmit readily between people,” WHO noted.
It is for this reason that the Philippine Department of Health is not that worried. “There is no cause for immediate concern at this time,” Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo said. “From the information that we’re receiving, it’s not something that can be easily transmitted from one person to another.”
“It seems isolated (in Wuhan),” he added.
WHO explained that new coronaviruses “emerge periodically” in different parts of the world, as in the case of SARS in 2002 and MERS in 2012. “Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans. As surveillance improves, more coronaviruses are likely to be identified,” WHO said.
WHO praised China for having “strong public health capacities and resources” to respond to the virus but it said more comprehensive information is required to understand the outbreak. Among the things that are still unclear are the source of the virus, its mode of transmission, and extent of infection.
In the case of the Philippines, the Bureau of Quarantine has been closely monitoring international airports for suspected cases of the new virus. As of Friday, none has been monitored.
Domingo also assured the public that the government is ready for such cases because it already has protocols in place due to the SARS outbreak more than a decade in the Philippines.
He said Filipinos have nothing to fear as long as they don’t travel to affected places and continue to practice regular personal hygiene.