What Is Coronavirus? Explaining The Mysterious Pneumonia In China

A mysterious pneumonia outbreak in China has been linked to a new strain of coronavirus. The disease has made dozens of people sick in the city of Wuhan and at least one person has died.

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Coronavirus is a species of virus that appears crown-like under a microscope. They can cause illnesses as mundane as the common cold to ones as deadly as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) — which killed 774 people globally in 2002 and 2003 — and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) — which was identified in 2012 and has killed 851 people so far. Many coronavirus strains only transmit between animals and don’t spread to humans. Most coronaviruses spread through coughing, sneezing, or general contact with an infected person, though this doesn’t seem to be the case for the outbreak in China.

A World Health Organization (WHO) statement about the new strain suggests that while it can be quite severe for some patients, it doesn’t readily transmit between people. Preliminary lab tests have identified it as a coronavirus, but more research is needed to confirm the virus for certain and a drug or vaccine would take years to develop.

People who fell sick in China all reportedly visited the same wild animal market in Wuhan, the Washington Post reported. A few people in Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea who recently visited Wuhan have also shown symptoms, which include fever and lesions on the lungs that can be seen during chest radiographs.

One man who died was 61 years old, and regularly visited the market that authorities have linked to the disease. The man was also previously diagnosed with abdominal tumours and chronic liver disease.

Forty-one people have been diagnosed with the new illness, according to Aljazeera, and seven are in critical condition. Two people have been discharged from the hospital. No new cases have allegedly been reported since Jan. 3. The animal market was closed on Jan. 1 for cleaning and disinfection. No health care workers have become ill from treating patients — a good sign the disease doesn’t transmit easily from human to human. 

The WHO did not recommend any specific restrictions or measures for travellers or trade in and out of China, but the federal government did release a travel advisory for Canadians visiting the region. Travel in and out of the country is expected to increase around the Lunar New Year holiday on Jan. 25.

It recommended travellers avoid high-risk areas that have animals like farms, markets and butchers, avoid contact with living and dead animals, and avoid surfaces with animal waste on them. The advisory also reminded travellers to wash their hands frequently and monitor their own health carefully during and after their trips. 

The WHO said it is continuing to monitor the situation in China, as well as how authorities in the country respond to it.

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