The Latest on the Coronavirus: Cases Top 20,000, First U.S. Patient Released

  • Chinese authorities have detected a new outbreak of coronavirus.
  • While this is the same family as the SARS virus, it appears to be a new disease.
  • For the first time in the U.S., a person who contracted the coronavirus has recovered and was sent home.

Editor’s note: This is a developing story that’s been updated since it was first published. Healthline will continue to update this article when there’s new information.

Chinese scientists have identified a previously unknown type of coronavirus as the cause of a recent pneumonia outbreak in the city of Wuhan, according to state media.

The current situation follows the severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus (SARS-CoV) outbreak in 2002 and first detection of Middle East respiratory syndrome-coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in 2012.

NIAID director discusses latest developments

As of this morning, there are 28,353 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection, with 1,382 recovered and 565 deaths, according to real-time data from Johns Hopkins University.

The virus is likely to continue spreading in the United States, the CDC said.

The National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) director, Dr. Anthony Fauci, discussed the ongoing novel coronavirus epidemic in a livestream video today with Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) editor in chief, Dr. Howard Bauchner.

“One thing is starting to be noticed. It appears that the travel-related cases that are outside of China, that then transmit to other people, it appears that somehow or other not a lot of them are catastrophic infection,” observed Fauci.

Two babies are now the youngest people to have been confirmed infected with the virus according to Fauci.

But Fauci says there’s no way to determine if the infection was passed before or after birth.

“The problem is the postnatal, close contact between a mother and a baby in a viral infection that has an incubation period of as low as 2 and sometimes 1 day. It really becomes impossible to say that it was vertical versus the mother gave it to the baby right at birth,” said Fauci.

He also doesn’t believe that current restrictions on travel will be effective to contain the outbreak, because they “don’t do much to stop the entry of infection when there is a broad, global pandemic, because you can’t restrict travel for the whole world.”

Fauci also told JAMA that the novel coronavirus, unlike other infections, can take a long time after infection to cause severe illness.

“This virus is really acting different. This virus, when it gets in you, it adapts itself so that you can wind up days later getting really serious disease,” emphasized Fauci.

Coronavirus test fast-tracked by FDA

On Feb. 4, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency authorization allowing public health labs to use the 2019-nCoV Real-Time RT-PCR Diagnostic Panel, a test that can detect whether someone is infected with the new coronavirus.

This authorization is especially significant for the United States, because hospitals and public health departments are now able to conduct testing on-site rather than shipping virus samples directly to the CDC.

“The FDA remains deeply committed to utilizing our regulatory tools and leveraging our technical and scientific expertise to advance the availability of critical medical products to respond to this outbreak in the most expeditious, safe, and effective manner possible,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, MD, in a statement.

The Administration emphasized that although a positive test result likely means infection with 2019-nCoV, negative results don’t guarantee you’re not infected, and shouldn’t be used as “the sole basis for treatment or other patient management decisions.”

“We hope to send at least one to every state health department and maybe more than one,” Joseph Bresee, MD, FAAP, a CDC epidemiologist who’s working on the outbreak response, told Reuters.

First US patient leaves hospital

The first U.S. person confirmed to be infected with 2019 novel coronavirus has been discharged from the hospital this week according to NBC News.

The man, who remains unidentified, has asked for privacy and said “I am at home and continuing to get better. I appreciate all of the concern expressed by members of the public, and I look forward to returning to my normal life,” in a statement.

Meanwhile, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD) confirmed that the CDC has quarantined 195 U.S. citizens evacuated from Wuhan, China, in a telebriefing on Jan. 31.

“At this moment CDC staff are speaking with the repatriated individuals in California to let them know that CDC under statutory authority of the HHS Secretary has issued federal quarantine orders for all 195 passengers. The quarantine will last 14 days from when the plane left Wuhan, China,” said Messonnier.

WHO declares emergency

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced last week that it’s declaring a public health emergency of international concern based on the outbreak of the new coronavirus.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director general, said at a press conference that they were concerned about the virus’ ability to spread outside of China.

“The main resound or the declaration is not because of what is happening but because of what is happening in other continues. The greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker systems… that are ill-prepared to deal with it,” Ghebreyesus said.

Person-to-person transmission has been seen among people in contact with those who have the virus.

The full picture of how easily and sustainably this coronavirus spreads is still unclear.

Person-to-person transmission can happen on a continuum, with some viruses being highly contagious (like measles) and others being less so.

“This is a very serious public health situation,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, in an earlier statement.

“Moving forward, we can expect to see more cases, and more cases means more potential for person-to-person spread,” she said.

According to the CDC, there are another 282 patients under investigation who may have contracted the virus but haven’t yet been confirmed.

FDA announces new countermeasures against Wuhan virus

The FDA will take critical actions to advance countermeasures against the new coronavirus, the administration announced on Monday, Jan. 27.

“We have a vital mission to protect and promote public health and the FDA is closely collaborating with our domestic and international public health partners to mitigate the impact of the novel coronavirus that emerged in Wuhan, China,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, MD, in a statement.

The news comes amid a significant increase in reported infections.

Hahn emphasized the FDA will begin employing the full range of the administration’s public health employees to “facilitate the development and availability of investigational medical products to help address this urgent public health situation.”

The FDA has also launched a landing page that provides “key information for the public, including product developers, on the FDA’s efforts in response to this outbreak.”

This outbreak is affecting healthy and relatively young people as well, according to a recent study published in The Lancet.

The researchers also found that most cases may be very mild, facilitating a more rapid transmission of the epidemic.

Crucially, only two-thirds of the 41 patients studied had visited the Wuhan seafood market.

The most common symptoms at onset of illness were fever, cough, and muscle pain or fatigue, according to study authors.

“It is expected that further international exportation of cases may appear in any country. Thus, all countries should be prepared for containment, including active surveillance, early detection, isolation and case management, contact tracing, and prevention of onward spread of 2019-nCoV infection, and to share full data with WHO,” the World Health Organization said in a statement.

Level 3 health warning issued for Wuhan by CDC

On Thursday, Jan. 23, the CDC escalated its health warning regarding travel to Wuhan, China, to a level 3.

This means the CDC advises travelers to avoid nonessential travel to Wuhan, China — previously identified as the epicenter of the recent outbreak.

According to the CDC:

  • Chinese officials have closed transport in and out of Wuhan, including buses, subways, trains, and the international airport.
  • Preliminary information suggests older adults and people with underlying health conditions may be at increased risk for severe disease from this virus.
  • Person-to-person transmission has been confirmed.

Officials admitted they don’t know the source of this virus, and “we don’t understand how easily it spreads and we don’t fully understand its clinical features or severity.”

According to a report in China state media, tighter regulations will be imposed on vehicles leaving the city.

Additionally, vehicles are banned from taking passengers out of Wuhan, and measures including body temperature monitoring of drivers and vehicle disinfection will be implemented.

Another MERS and SARS?

According to the WHO, initial information about the pneumonia cases in Wuhan, provided by Chinese authorities, points to the coronavirus as the pathogen causing this cluster.

Chinese authorities reported that laboratory tests ruled out SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, influenza, avian influenza, adenovirus, and other common infectious agents.

More than 8,000 people contracted the SARS virus, and almost 800 died in the 2002 pandemic.

The SARS virus spread to nearly 40 countries in 2002 and 2003. The same type of virus was associated with a similar outbreak of MERS, which was first identified in 2013 in Saudi Arabia.

According to the WHO, MERS has been responsible for about 850 deaths worldwide.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, with some causing less severe disease, like the common cold. Although some easily transmit from person to person, others don’t.

Infection linked to local food market

China state media reported that some of the people who fell ill between Dec. 12 and 29 are sellers from a local wholesale seafood market.

That market has since been shut down for cleaning and disinfection, according to the CDC.

“What’s happening over there is in a particular area of China at a seafood market, and… it [first] appears that transmission is from animal to human,” Nikhil Bhayani, an infectious disease physician with Texas Health Resources, told Healthline.

What is a coronavirus?

“Corona means ‘crown,’ so these viruses appear crown-shaped when looked at under an electron microscope,” said Bhanu Sud, MD, an infectious disease specialist at St. Jude Medical Center in Placentia, California.

“Most coronaviruses are harmless,” he said. “They’ll usually cause mild to moderate upper respiratory tract illnesses, like the common cold. Most people will get infected with these viruses at some point in their lives.”

Sud emphasizes that while the outlook is good for most people infected with this type of virus, the SARS and MERS strains are more serious.

The death rate is around 10 percent for people with SARS and 30 percent for those with the MERS variant.

“What is unknown right now is the virus being typed. They’re doing testing to find out what type of virus this is and whether it’s more similar to SARS or MERS,” Bhayani said. “I have a strong feeling that this is going to be a new virus.”

Chinese authorities turn to quarantines to stop the outbreak

China has started to shut down flights and trains from Wuhan, effectively quarantining a city of millions, according to reports.

This started during the Lunar New Year holiday, when tens of millions of people often travel home in China.

According to an earlier translated report from the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission:

“Experts advise that the city is currently in the season of high incidence of infectious diseases in winter and spring. Citizens should pay attention to maintaining indoor air circulation, avoiding closed and airless public places and crowded places, and wear masks if necessary.”

Sud said, “Any infection anywhere in the world is always a risk for every country because international travel has become so easy now.”

He adds this is why early detection and quarantine are essential measures in halting the transmission of these infections.

No treatment available

According to Sud, human coronaviruses most commonly transmit from an infected person to others via:

  • the air by coughing and sneezing
  • close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
  • touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before washing your hands

“In the United States, people usually get infected with common human coronaviruses in the fall and winter. However, infection can occur at any time of the year,” he said.

“Most people will get infected with one or more of the common human coronaviruses in their lifetime,” he added.

Sud also points out both SARS and MERS outbreaks were from animal-to-human contact, with SARS most likely from contact with bats and MERS from contact with camels.

“Since the organism causing infection is a virus, to date, we don’t have any specific antiviral medications,” Sud said.

The bottom line

Chinese authorities have identified an outbreak of respiratory illness. The CDC has issued a level 3 warning due to the outbreak, notifying travelers they should avoid nonessential travel to the area.

So far, 11 people in the United States have been confirmed to have contracted the new coronavirus.

Experts emphasize that since a virus causes the illness, there aren’t any treatments available. The infection can only be allowed to run its course.

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