A new virus triggers an epidemic in China: what do we know about this disease?


– January 10, 2020 – Science

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An outbreak of pneumonia in China is caused by the emergence of a new coronavirus. It does not appear to be lethal, some patients are already cured, but others are in a serious condition.

Chinese authorities are investigating an outbreak of pneumonia that is still difficult to explain. As reported by the World Health Organization on January 9, 2020, the situation would have taken root in Wuhan, a city in the centre of China. Similar cases have also been discovered in Hong Kong In South Korea a woman who recently visited Wuhan could just as easily be infected.

In total, nearly 100 patients were treated, with symptoms such as fever or breathing difficulties. They were treated in isolation. Many of them are now cured, which is obviously good news, since the disease does not appear to be inherently fatal. That doesn’t mean it’s safe: seven of the infected patients are in critical condition. The exact identification of this pneumonia was initially booted in, and for good reason, it is a new, previously unidentified disease.

Image d’un coronavirus (ici celui qui provoque le Syndrome respiratoire aigu sévère). Le terme signifie 1 virus à couronne », car le virus est entouré d’une petit couronne de projections bulbeuses comme on peut le voir sur cette image au microscope. // Source : CDC

Image of a coronavirus (here the one that causes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). The term means “1-crowned virus” because the virus is surrounded by a small crown of bulbous projections as seen in this image under the microscope. // Source: CDC

The outbreak is believed to have originated from a market

As stated by the World Health Organization, laboratory tests excluded viruses that appeared at first glance to resemble the symptoms of known viruses such as severe acute respiratory syndrome, Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, and even influenza or avian influenza.

Doctors have deepened the profile of the infection (symptoms, positioning in the body…) and they have been able to reconstruct the genomic sequence of the virus. Everything seems to point to a coronavirus-like pathogen. About 15 patients are infected with this same new pathogen. This family of viruses is close to the severe acute respiratory syndrome, which has a 10% mortality rate. Coronaviruses also include much less dangerous diseases, such as the common cold. The level of severity of this new disease is therefore still difficult to determine but, despite an epidemic effect, initial analyses would show that it does not transmit easily from human to human. There would rather be a common source in the patients.

The emergence of a new coronavirus is not that rare.

The emergence of a new virus can be impressive, but it is not something so rare in history and in the world. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) itself was born in 2002. “Globally, new coronaviruses periodically emerge in different regions,” says the World Health Organization. “Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals and have not yet infected humans. “Not all of them are as serious as SARS. In fact, the fact that more and more coronaviruses are being detected is not necessarily because they are multiplying per se, but rather because our medical surveillance and viral identification methods are improving.

Now that the existence of this new pneumonia-like coronavirus has been established, the next steps will be to go back to the source to identify the exact causes of its mutation and spread. The investigation currently targets a market in Wuhan where seafood, chickens, bats and other wildlife are sold. The virus could have come from one of them. Many of the first infected people work in this market.

The World Health Organization reassures: “China has strong public health infrastructure and resources to respond to and manage outbreaks of respiratory diseases. »

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