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What We Know About the Mysterious Cases of Pneumonia Spreading in China

It’s not SARS, MERS, or bird flu.

by Lia Savillo
06 January 2020, 1:22pm

Photo by Yohann Agnelot from Flickr. (CC BY-ND 2.0). 

This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.

Asia has seen multiple outbreaks of deadly diseases in the past like the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) pandemic in the early 2000s, the 2009 swine flu pandemic, and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in 2012. But what’s leaving many, including the World Health Organization (WHO), puzzled today is a lung infection spreading in the Chinese city of Wuhan that has affected 59 people, seven of whom are now reportedly in critical condition.

Information on the disease that is being described as a viral pneumonia is still scant, but here’s what we know so far.

When It Started

According to AFP, the infection broke out between December 12 and 29. Some cases involve people who worked at a seafood market in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province. The market has since been closed for disinfection.

The Symptoms

Recorded clinical signs and symptoms include fever, difficulty breathing, and invasive lesions in the lungs, WHO reported.

What It’s Not

The Wuhan Health Commission has said that the mystery disease is not SARS, MERS, or bird flu. The commission is currently still working to identify the virus and its source as 163 people who were in contact with those infected have been placed under medical observation. As of this writing, there have reportedly been no human transmission of the disease.

The World Health Organization is now investigating the disease and is in active communication with the Chinese government to determine the cause.

“There is limited information to determine the overall risk of this reported cluster of pneumonia of unknown etiology,” the WHO said in a statement.

However, it has attributed the disease to exposure to wholesale fish and live animals in the market. The organisation noted that while the symptoms are common in several respiratory diseases and despite pneumonia usually spreading during winter, the cases should still be “handled prudently.”

The United Nations also expressed their concern over the disease and has activated its incident-management system in China, standing by to launch a broader response if needed.

Outside China

As a precaution, neighbouring places like the Philippines, Singapore, and Hong Kong are now on high alert, implementing screening processes for travellers from Wuhan.

Hong Kong has already admitted 17 people who visited Wuhan in the past 14 days to hospitals after they experienced similar symptoms. According to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), eight were cleared from having an unidentified virus, with five discharged and others in stable condition.

Singapore has one reported suspicious case but it has not yet been determined if it’s the same disease affecting China.

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