China's Deadly Pneumonia-Like Virus Has Now Spread Through Human Contact, Officials Confirm

Six people have died, and there's worry about it spreading as the massive Lunar New Year travel ramps up.
January 21, 2020, 5:48pm
Six people have died from the coronavirus, not previously seen in humans, and there's worry about it spreading as massive Lunar New Year travel ramps up.

UPDATE Jan. 21, 2:20 p.m.: A person traveling from China's Wuhan province to Washington state was reportedly infected with the new coronavirus and is now receiving treatment at a hospital in Everett.

Cases of a mysterious and deadly new strain of coronavirus are rapidly climbing in China, where officials now say it’s possible for the pneumonia-like illness to be contracted through human-to-human transmission.

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The number of new cases quadrupled over the weekend, according to CBS News. Nearly 300 cases had been recorded in China as of Tuesday, according to NBC News, and officials have confirmed two of those cases passed human-to-human. That’s particularly concerning since China, where the first case was recorded in Wuhan last month, is entering the time of annual celebrations for the Lunar New Year, when more than 400 million people are expected to travel either domestically or internationally, according to the Guardian.

Besides in China, cases have been recorded in Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, and South Korea — mostly from travelers coming back from Wuhan. Potential cases are also being monitored in the Philippines and Australia, also due to Wuhan travelers. China’s central Hubei province, home to Wuhan, has recorded the bulk of China’s 300 cases, according to the Washington Post, and it’s believed the cases are somehow connected to a now-closed seafood market. The World Health Organization said human-to-human transmission is “limited,” with the primary source likely being an animal.

As of Tuesday, six people had died from the virus, which had not previously been seen in humans, according to NBC News. The virus is of the coronavirus family, which includes deadly diseases like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), but can also cause the sort of cold-like symptoms that retreat after simple, over-the-counter treatments. It’s the still-fresh memory of SARS — which infected more than 8,000 people and killed nearly 800 across Asia in 2002 and 2003 — that’s prompted great anxiety about this new virus.

Experts with the World Health Organization will meet in Geneva on Wednesday to determine how the outbreak can be properly managed, according to USA Today. In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it would increase screenings on travelers at certain airports in California and New York. Authorities across Asia are responding by increasing screening at common places of travel, like airports and highways.

"The lesson we've learned is coronavirus infections are serious and one of the newest and biggest global health threats," Peter Hotez, a vaccine scientist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, told CNN.

Cover: Women wear face masks as they walk down a street in Hangzhou in eastern China's Zhejiang province, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020.(Chinatopix via AP)