Health officials across the globe are on high alert about a mysterious virus originating in China. The virus was previously only detected in animals. However, an outbreak is believed to have started from people who picked it up from animals at a fresh food market in the city of Wuhan in central China.
Now the head of a Chinese government agency has confirmed human-to-human transmission. Two people in Guangdong province in southern China caught the disease from family members who’d been to Wuhan, state media reports.
So far 217 people have contracted the virus in Asia. Three people are confirmed dead. The outbreak comes as the country enters its busiest travel period when millions board trains and planes for the Lunar New Year holidays.
Authorities in Thailand and in Japan have already identified at least three cases, all involving recent travel from China.
South Korea reported its first case Monday, when a 35-year-old Chinese woman from Wuhan tested positive for the new virus one day after arriving at Seoul’s Incheon airport. The woman has been isolated at a state-run hospital there. South Korea is one of six Asian airports to screen incoming airline passengers from central China.
Here in America, over the weekend the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began screening hundreds of passengers arriving from Wuhan, China, at three airports with the largest influx of passengers from that area.
At least 100 CDC employees were dispatched to JFK Airport in New York City, LAX in Los Angeles, and SFO in San Francisco. They’re taking temperatures and questioning the incoming passengers, checking for symptoms of the virus, which can at first look like the common cold, flu or even pneumonia.
The virus is identified as a coronavirus – a type of virus that can cause a number of diseases ranging from the common cold to SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. SARS first infected people in southern China in late 2002 and spread to more than two dozen countries, killing nearly 800. The Chinese government initially tried to conceal the severity of the SARS epidemic, but its cover-up was exposed by a high-ranking physician.
Health officials in China and elsewhere are now trying to avoid a repeat of what happened with SARS with this current coronavirus outbreak. The newly discovered coronavirus is believed to be less serious than SARS since hundreds of people who came into close contact with diagnosed patients have not gotten sick, indicating the possibility that the virus is not easily transmitted between humans.