What is Coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses that can cause illnesses as minor as a cold, or as serious as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), according to the World Health Organization. They often present with pneumonia-like symptoms.

The viruses can be transmitted from animals to humans; the virus that causes SARS, for example, was originally transmitted to humans from a cat-like animal called a civet. But in some instances, as appears to be the case with this new strain of coronavirus, they can also be transmitted between humans. 

The World Health Organization said there are multiple known coronaviruses circulating in animals that have not yet been transmitted to humans.

How did the new strain start?

The outbreak began in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people. Many of the patients have reportedly been linked to Hua Nan Seafood Wholesale Market, a large seafood and animal market in the city, according to CBS News’ Ramy Inocencio. But a rising number of people have apparently contracted the virus without exposure to the market, according to Chinese officials.

The market was closed on January 1, 2020 for “environmental sanitation and disinfection,” according to the World Health Organization

How many people have died?

At least 41 people have died from the illness, according to Chinese officials. Thirty-eight of those deaths occurred in Wuhan, which is in the Hubei province. One additional death occurred in the Hubei province, and two more occurred outside of it. All of the deaths were in China. 

The first patient, a 61-year-old man, died January 9. Two more patients died January 15 and January 18. The national health commission of China said the fourth patient, an 89-year-old man, died January 19 after he was admitted to the hospital with severe breathing difficulties a day earlier. Additional deaths have been reported throughout the week.

Where is it?

While the virus originated in the Wuhan area of central China, cases have also been reported in Canada, Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, the U.S., Singapore, Australia and France. 

How is it transmitted?

It’s well-established that coronaviruses can spread from animals to humans, according to the World Health Organization. But on Monday, a Chinese official confirmed there have been cases in which this virus has spread from human to human. 

State-run media quoted Zhong Nanshan, a scientist at China’s National Health Commission, as saying such transmission was “affirmative.” The scientist did not say how many cases were the result of human-to-human transmission — but in one case, a hospital patient is said to have infected 14 medical workers, reports Inocencio.

What’s being done to stop the spread? 

The World Health Organization convened an emergency committee on the virus this week in Geneva, Switzerland. It said Thursday that the outbreak does not rise to the level of being designated an international public health emergency, but WHO will continue working with nations to contain it.

The CDC said it has developed a test to diagnose the virus. Currently, that test must be administered at the CDC, but the organization is working to share the test with domestic and international partners.

In Hong Kong, which was ravaged by SARS in 2002 and 2003, hospitals upped their alert level to “serious” and implemented temperature checkpoints for inbound travellers.

While China has closed transportation in and out of Wuhan and 12 other cities, there are concerns that as hundreds of millions of people travel around the country to celebrate the Chinese New Year, the virus could spread even faster.

Is it safe to travel?

On Thursday, the CDC issued a level 3 travel warning — its highest level — urging people to avoid all non-essential travel to the city of Wuhan, China, due to the coronavirus outbreak. The federal health agency advises anyone who must go there to avoid contact with sick people, animals, animal markets and animal products.

“Older adults and travellers with underlying health issues may be at risk for more severe disease and should discuss travel to Wuhan with their healthcare provider,” the CDC said.

The agency is urging people to seek medical care right away if they travelled to Wuhan in the past two weeks and have a fever, cough or trouble breathing. It says older adults and people with underlying health conditions may be most at risk for severe illness from the virus.

“Preliminary information suggests that older adults and people with underlying health conditions may be at increased risk for severe disease from this virus,” it said.

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