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Chinese virus: How worried should we be? Coronavirus: How worried should we be?
(about 1 hour later)
A virus - previously unknown to science - is causing severe lung disease in China and has also been detected in other countries.A virus - previously unknown to science - is causing severe lung disease in China and has also been detected in other countries.
At least nine people are known to have died from the virus, which appeared in the Chinese city Wuhan in December.At least nine people are known to have died from the virus, which appeared in the Chinese city Wuhan in December.
There are already hundreds of confirmed cases of the virus, and experts expect the number will keep rising.There are already hundreds of confirmed cases of the virus, and experts expect the number will keep rising.
A new virus arriving on the scene, leaving patients with pneumonia, is always a worry and health officials around the world are on high alert.A new virus arriving on the scene, leaving patients with pneumonia, is always a worry and health officials around the world are on high alert.
But is this a brief here-today-gone-tomorrow outbreak or the first sign of something far more dangerous?But is this a brief here-today-gone-tomorrow outbreak or the first sign of something far more dangerous?
What is this virus?What is this virus?
Viral samples have been taken from patients and analysed in the laboratory.Viral samples have been taken from patients and analysed in the laboratory.
And officials in China and the World Health Organization (WHO) have concluded the infection is a coronavirus.And officials in China and the World Health Organization (WHO) have concluded the infection is a coronavirus.
Coronaviruses are a broad family of viruses, but only six (the new one would make it seven) are known to infect people.Coronaviruses are a broad family of viruses, but only six (the new one would make it seven) are known to infect people.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), which is caused by a coronavirus, killed 774 of the 8,098 people infected in an outbreak that started in China in 2002.Severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), which is caused by a coronavirus, killed 774 of the 8,098 people infected in an outbreak that started in China in 2002.
"There is a strong memory of Sars, that's where a lot of fear comes from, but we're a lot more prepared to deal with those types of diseases," says Dr Josie Golding, from the Wellcome Trust."There is a strong memory of Sars, that's where a lot of fear comes from, but we're a lot more prepared to deal with those types of diseases," says Dr Josie Golding, from the Wellcome Trust.
Is it serious?Is it serious?
Coronaviruses can cause symptoms ranging from a mild cold all the way through to death.Coronaviruses can cause symptoms ranging from a mild cold all the way through to death.
This new virus appears to be somewhere in the middle.This new virus appears to be somewhere in the middle.
"When we see a new coronavirus, we want to know how severe are the symptoms - this is more than cold-like symptoms and that is a concern but it is not as severe as Sars," says Prof Mark Woolhouse, from the University of Edinburgh."When we see a new coronavirus, we want to know how severe are the symptoms - this is more than cold-like symptoms and that is a concern but it is not as severe as Sars," says Prof Mark Woolhouse, from the University of Edinburgh.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is considering declaring an international public health emergency over the virus - as it did with swine flu and Ebola.The World Health Organization (WHO) is considering declaring an international public health emergency over the virus - as it did with swine flu and Ebola.
How deadly is it?How deadly is it?
Nine people are known to have died from the virus, but it is hard to work out the mortality rate.Nine people are known to have died from the virus, but it is hard to work out the mortality rate.
The patients known to doctors are largely the most severe cases, but it is unclear how many mild or asymptomatic cases there are.The patients known to doctors are largely the most severe cases, but it is unclear how many mild or asymptomatic cases there are.
Until there is a clearer sense of the scale of the outbreak, it is hard to know precisely how deadly it is.Until there is a clearer sense of the scale of the outbreak, it is hard to know precisely how deadly it is.
Where has it come from?Where has it come from?
New viruses are detected all the time.New viruses are detected all the time.
They jump from one species, where they went unnoticed, into humans.They jump from one species, where they went unnoticed, into humans.
"If we think about outbreaks in the past, if it is a new coronavirus, it will have come from an animal reservoir," says Prof Jonathan Ball, a virologist at the University of Nottingham."If we think about outbreaks in the past, if it is a new coronavirus, it will have come from an animal reservoir," says Prof Jonathan Ball, a virologist at the University of Nottingham.
Sars jumped from the civet cat into humans.Sars jumped from the civet cat into humans.
And Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers), which has killed 858 out of the 2,494 recorded cases since it emerged in 2012, regularly makes the jump from the dromedary camel.And Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers), which has killed 858 out of the 2,494 recorded cases since it emerged in 2012, regularly makes the jump from the dromedary camel.
Which animal?Which animal?
Once the animal reservoir where the virus normally camps out is detected, the problem becomes much easier to deal with.Once the animal reservoir where the virus normally camps out is detected, the problem becomes much easier to deal with.
The cases have been linked to the South China Seafood Wholesale Market, in Wuhan.The cases have been linked to the South China Seafood Wholesale Market, in Wuhan.
But while some sea-going mammals can carry coronaviruses (such as the Beluga whale), the market also has live wild animals, including chickens, bats, rabbits, snakes, which are more likely to be the source.But while some sea-going mammals can carry coronaviruses (such as the Beluga whale), the market also has live wild animals, including chickens, bats, rabbits, snakes, which are more likely to be the source.
Why China?Why China?
Prof Woolhouse says it is because of the size and density of the population and close contact with animals harbouring viruses.Prof Woolhouse says it is because of the size and density of the population and close contact with animals harbouring viruses.
"No-one is surprised the next outbreak is in China or that part of the world," he says."No-one is surprised the next outbreak is in China or that part of the world," he says.
How easily does it spread?How easily does it spread?
Chinese officials say there have been cases of the virus spreading from one person to another, with some healthcare workers becoming infected after caring for patients with the same illness.Chinese officials say there have been cases of the virus spreading from one person to another, with some healthcare workers becoming infected after caring for patients with the same illness.
This is a concern with new viruses that infect the lungs, as coughs and sneezes are a highly effective way for a virus to spread.This is a concern with new viruses that infect the lungs, as coughs and sneezes are a highly effective way for a virus to spread.
It is too soon know how many people might become ill.It is too soon know how many people might become ill.
How fast is it spreading?How fast is it spreading?
The outbreak was thought to be limited, but new cases have been reported since it started in December.The outbreak was thought to be limited, but new cases have been reported since it started in December.
While the outbreak is centred on Wuhan, there have been cases reported in Thailand, Japan and South Korea. Those people travelled from Wuhan recently.While the outbreak is centred on Wuhan, there have been cases reported in Thailand, Japan and South Korea. Those people travelled from Wuhan recently.
Experts say there could be more cases going undetected.Experts say there could be more cases going undetected.
A report by the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College London said: "It is likely that the Wuhan outbreak of a novel coronavirus has caused substantially more cases of moderate or severe respiratory illness than currently reported."A report by the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College London said: "It is likely that the Wuhan outbreak of a novel coronavirus has caused substantially more cases of moderate or severe respiratory illness than currently reported."
There are concerns that the virus could be spread by the hundreds of millions of people travelling for Chinese New Year later this month.There are concerns that the virus could be spread by the hundreds of millions of people travelling for Chinese New Year later this month.
Singapore and Hong Kong have been screening air passengers from Wuhan and US authorities announced similar measures starting on Friday at three major airports in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York.Singapore and Hong Kong have been screening air passengers from Wuhan and US authorities announced similar measures starting on Friday at three major airports in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York.
Could the virus mutate?Could the virus mutate?
Yes, you would expect viruses to mutate and evolve all the time. But what this means is harder to tell.Yes, you would expect viruses to mutate and evolve all the time. But what this means is harder to tell.
The novel coronavirus has jumped from one species to another. It could mutate to make it easier to spread from one person to another or to have more severe symptoms.The novel coronavirus has jumped from one species to another. It could mutate to make it easier to spread from one person to another or to have more severe symptoms.
This is something scientists will be watching closely.This is something scientists will be watching closely.
How have Chinese authorities responded?How have Chinese authorities responded?
Infected people have been treated in isolation to minimise the risk of the bug spreading.Infected people have been treated in isolation to minimise the risk of the bug spreading.
Extra checks such as temperature scans have been put in place to screen travellers.Extra checks such as temperature scans have been put in place to screen travellers.
And the seafood market was closed for cleaning and disinfection.And the seafood market was closed for cleaning and disinfection.
The US and most Asian countries have stepped up screenings of travellers from Wuhan and the WHO has warned hospitals worldwide that a wider outbreak is possible.The US and most Asian countries have stepped up screenings of travellers from Wuhan and the WHO has warned hospitals worldwide that a wider outbreak is possible.
How worried are the experts?How worried are the experts?
Dr Golding says: "At the moment, until we have more information, it's really hard to know how worried we should be.Dr Golding says: "At the moment, until we have more information, it's really hard to know how worried we should be.
"Until we have confirmation of the source, that's always going to make us uneasy.""Until we have confirmation of the source, that's always going to make us uneasy."
Prof Ball says: "We should be worried about any virus that explores humans for the first time, because it's overcome the first major barrier.Prof Ball says: "We should be worried about any virus that explores humans for the first time, because it's overcome the first major barrier.
"Once inside a [human] cell and replicating, it can start to generate mutations that could allow it to spread more efficiently and become more dangerous."Once inside a [human] cell and replicating, it can start to generate mutations that could allow it to spread more efficiently and become more dangerous.
"You don't want to give the virus the opportunity," Prof Ball said."You don't want to give the virus the opportunity," Prof Ball said.