The Wuhan coronavirus or 2019-nCoV, a novel coronavirus, is spreading from China to other countries, with the United States confirming its first case of the potentially fatal disease. The virus has killed 17 people in China, sickening more than 500 people across six countries, and leaving thousands of people in quarantine.
Wuhan skyline and Yangtze river with supertall skyscraper under construction in Wuhan Hubei China. Image Credit: Sleepingpanda / Shutterstock
The virus, marked by pneumonia-like symptoms and fever, first appeared in Wuhan, an 11-million-person city in Hubei province in China.
The Wuhan coronavirus timeline
The once mysterious virus causing severe pneumonia-like symptoms, including fever, cough, and difficulty of breathing has been confirmed to be a coronavirus. It’s like two already existing coronavirus diseases, both of which are deadly – the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which originated in China in 2003, and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-Cov), which first appeared in the Middle East in 2012.
Series of mysterious lung disease
The day before New Year, on December 31, 2019, Chinese authorities have reported a series of a mysterious lung disease, likened to pneumonia, appearing in Wuhan City to the World Health Organization (WHO). The patients were isolated and quarantined while health officials try to determine where the disease started.
On New Year’s day, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified the source of the infection, which was a seafood market in the city. Health officials immediately shut down the market to prevent the further spread of the virus.
The next day, on Jan. 2, Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH) was alerted of the new pneumonia outbreak in China and initiated screenings in the airport for all travelers arriving from China. Patients with symptoms such as fever and cough were immediately referred to hospitals for evaluation.
First death linked to the virus
On Jan. 9, the WHO has identified the culprit behind the outbreak, which is a new strain of coronavirus, which is a viral family of viruses causing diseases such as common colds, to more serious diseases, such as SARS and MERS-Cov.
In a matter of days, the virus has spread, infecting more than 50 people. The outbreak came to a point where health officials were alarmed as one person has died of the virus on Jan. 11 and a couple of days after, the virus has spread beyond China.
On Jan. 13, Thailand has confirmed its first case of the 2019-NCov infection. The female patient returned to Thailand from a trip to Wuhan and presented with symptoms of pneumonia. On Jan, 16, Japan has confirmed its first case of the virus, who was a patient who came back from Wuhan.
Possible human-to-human transmission
The health officials at this time said that there have been no cases of human transmission of the virus, but it can’t be excluded. On Jan. 17, another patient has succumbed to the effects of the virus in China and on the same day, CDC alerted that patients from Wuhan will be screened upon arrival in United States airports.
On the 20th of January, more than 100 new cases were confirmed by Chinese officials, and South Korea reports its first case, which is also a traveler coming from Wuhan City. By this time, health officials said that human-to-human transmission is possible, according to Zhong Nanshan, a renowned scientist at the National Health Commission, who studied the scale of the SARS outbreak more than a decade ago. He added that the patients can contract the virus without visiting the seafood market.
On Jan. 21, another patient has died from the infection, raising the death toll to four. On the same day, the CDC confirms the first case of the Wuhan coronavirus infection in the United States, who returned from Wuhan, China. The patient is currently in isolation and health officials have ramped up efforts to screen patients in major airports in the country.
Virus spreading with more cases and deaths
Taiwan has reported its first case on Jan. 21, and the people infected in Thailand increased to two. On January 22, an official from China’s national health commission reports that the death toll has increased to nine on Jan. 21 and there are 440 confirmed cases across 13 Chinese provinces and more than 2,000 cases of close contact.
On Jan. 22, Thailand reports two additional cases, and Macau confirms its first case. As of reporting, the death toll has risen to 17, with the number of confirmed cases rose to more than 500.
What health officials are doing
Local disease-control authorities issued an order to quarantine the city, which includes stopping all public transportation operations, including ferries, trains, and buses. Travel into and out of the city, including airplanes will be stopped to prevent the further spread of the virus, which is now believed to possibly spread via human transmission.
The United States has imposed strict screening in five major U.S. airports – John F. Kennedy International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, Chicago O’Hare International Airport, and the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Other countries have also imposed screening passengers for fever and other symptoms, including Thailand, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore.
The World Health Organization (WHO) initiated a meeting on IHR Committee on the novel coronavirus.
“The decision about whether or not to declare a public health emergency of international concern is one I take extremely seriously, and one I am only prepared to make with appropriate consideration of all the evidence. Our team in China working with local experts and officials to investigate the outbreak,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s Director General, said in a statement.