The death toll of a coronavirus outbreak that started in China is rising.
The virus’ scientific name is 2019-nCoV, and it can be passed from human to human. Authorities are fighting to stop it from spreading further as millions begin to travel for the upcoming Chinese New Year.
The disease is part of the larger coronavirus family, which typically infect the nose, throat, or sinuses. This one has pneumonia-like symptoms.
Here’s everything we know:
The first case of the virus was reported in Wuhan in December. The central Chinese city has a population of 11 million.
Ruobing Su/Business InsiderThis virus’ pneumonia-like symptoms include fever and difficulty breathing.
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According to the Centers for Disease Control, a person could be at risk if they have:
Fever and symptoms of lower respiratory illness, such as coughing or difficulty breathing, after traveling to Wuhan or having close contact with someone who was ill and is now under investigation for the virus in the past two weeks.
Fever or symptoms of lower respiratory illness after having close contact in the past two weeks with someone who’s been confirmed to have the virus.
As of Wednesday, the virus has killed 17 people.
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“The people who are likely to die first will have other illnesses,” Adrian Hyzler, the chief medical officer at Healix International, which offers risk-management solutions for global travelers, told Business Insider. “But as it spreads, it’ll pick up more people like flu does.”
More than 570 people have been infected.
Associated PressChinese authorities launched an investigation in the first week of January, amid fears that the virus could be like SARS. That coronavirus also originated in China; it killed 774 people from November 2002 to July 2003.
AHMAD YUSNI / AFP) (Photo by AHMAD YUSNI/AFP via Getty Images
Authorities later determined that this coronavirus is not SARS, though the two belong to the same family.
Many corona viruses are not very serious, and only threaten people with weakened immune systems. But a few, like SARS, are deadly.
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“An initial first impression is that this is significantly milder than SARS,” Eric Toner, a senior scientist at Johns Hopkins University, told Business Insider.
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“On the other hand, it may be more transmissible than SARS, at least in the community setting,” Toner added.
Scientists are still learning about the virus’ incubation period — the time that passes between when a patient gets infected and when they start displaying symptoms. That’s a period people can be contagious without realizing they’re sick.
“The information that has been coming out of China so far is incomplete,” Toner said. “There’s an awful lot we don’t yet know.”
Health officials believe the coronavirus outbreak originated in a seafood market in Wuhan.
Photo by Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images
They initially said the virus could only spread from animals to humans.But on January 20, Chinese officials confirmed that the virus can be transferred from person to person as well.
“Now we can say it is certain that it is a human-to-human transmission phenomenon,” Zhong Nanshan, the scientist the Chinese government appointed to lead the effort to battle the disease, said.
Wuhan’s local disease-control authority announced on Wednesday that it would effectively quarantine the entire city by shutting down all transportation.
All of the city’s public transportation — including buses, metros, ferries, and train — will be temporarily shut down as of 10 a.m. local time on January 23. Trains and airplanes coming in and out of the city that have also been halted.
Wuhan’s 11 million residents have been told not to leave the city, barring special circumstances.
The virus has spread to five other countries and to many other parts of China, including Beijing, Guangdong province, Zhejiang province, Tianjin, and Shanghai.
NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP via Getty Images
Cases are also suspected in more regions of China.
Outside of China, one case has been recorded in the US, one South Korea, one in Japan, one in Taiwan, and four in Thailand . All of those patients were either from Wuhan or had recently visited the city.
Other places, like Singapore, have reported suspected cases.
This map shows where the virus has spread around the world. The US case is not shown.
Ruobing Su/Business Insider”I think we’re going to see cases popping up in cities all over the world,” Hyzler said.
Ruobing Su/Business Insider.comHe estimated that a single person with the virus could infect 10, 20, or 30 people.
The true number infected people is probably higher than the total that Chinese authorities have identified there.
At the point in time when China said just 45 people had been infected, academics from Imperial College London thought the true number of infected people might have been closer to 1,723.
Chinese officials have also warned that the virus is mutating, which could make it harder to control and treat.
Gao Fu, the director-general of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Wednesday that the virus was adapting and changing — making it harder to fight.
Airports around the world are trying to stop the virus from spreading by implementing screening protocols and diverting flights from Wuhan.
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Five US airports — New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and Chicago O’Hare International Airport — are beginning to screen passengers for the virus.
Airports in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, and South Korea are also screening passengers for fever.
Chinese state media reported that transport hubs in Wuhan were supplied with infrared thermometers to try to catch people who might have been infected. But those efforts started January 14 so likely missed some sick people.
The outbreak comes as as hundreds of millions prepare to travel for the weeks-long Chinese New Year, which is one of the largest annual human migrations in the world.
The holiday starts this weekend, and experts worry the surge in travel could boost the virus’ spread.
“This couldn’t have happened at a worse time for Wuhan,” Hyzler said.
“Our commission will step up our guard during the Spring Festival,” China’s National Health Commission said on Sunday.
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The commission also vowed to “pay close attention to the development and change of the epidemic, and direct the implementation of prevention and control measures.”
The commission added that the virus is “still preventable and controllable.”
STR/AFP via Getty ImagesThe World Health Organization is figuring out how to respond. An announcement is expected on Thursday.
FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images
The organization is still deciding whether to declare the coronavirus “a public-health emergency of international concern,” as it has in the past with diseases like swine flu and Ebola.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Monday that keeping people alive is the “top priority” and the virus’ spread “should be resolutely contained.”
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