NEWS
01/11/2020 19:39 EST | Updated 01/22/2020 12:32 EST

What Is Coronavirus? Explaining The Mysterious Pneumonia In China

At least one person has died from the illness in Wuhan, 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.

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.

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A "Health Beware Card" handed out by officials after performing thermal scans on passengers arriving from Wuhan, China at Suvarnabumi Airport on Jan. 8, 2020 in Bangkok, Thailand.

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.

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Security guards stand in front of the closed Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in the city of Wuhan, in the Hubei Province of China, on Jan. 11, 2020, where the Wuhan health commission said that the man who died from a respiratory illness had purchased goods.

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. 

Lauren DeCicca via Getty Images
Public Health officials hand out disease monitoring information after performing thermal scans on passengers arriving from Wuhan, China at Suvarnabumi Airport.

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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