Mystery Pneumonia Cases Rise to 59 in China

By Ryan Gandolfo, January 7, 2020

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UPDATE (January 13, 2020 5.01pm CST): On January 11, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission confirmed the first death of the pneumonia outbreak. The cause of the outbreak has been identified as a new strain of coronavirus. Click here to learn more.

An unknown form of pneumonia in Central China’s Wuhan has sickened 59 people, according to a notice by the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission on Sunday.  

The pneumonia outbreak has yet to be identified, however, the health commission has ruled out a link to SARS, the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), adenovirus and bird flu. The cluster of cases is centered around a seafood market in Wuhan, which also sells chickens, bats, marmots and other wild animals. The market closed on January 1 for cleaning and disinfection, while over 150 close contacts are being monitored by health authorities for signs of illness. Symptoms of the illness include high fever, difficulty breathing and lung lesions, the local health commission said, as cited by the New York Times.

In Wuhan, all patients have reportedly been quarantined, receiving treatment at a medical center in Hubei province’s capital city. As of January 5, seven patients are critically ill while the others are in stable condition. Currently, no deaths have been reported by the local health commission. So far, health authorities have found no evidence that the illness can be transmitted between humans in a preliminary investigation.

Suspected cases have also been reported in Hong Kong after people who had visited Wuhan in the past two weeks arrived in the special administrative region. Twenty-one people with pneumonia-related symptoms have been admitted to Hong Kong hospitals, including a 2-year-old boy, according to South China Morning Post. As of Sunday, seven patients with unrelated viruses to the Wuhan outbreak have been discharged from the hospital.

READ MORE: Hunter Contracts Bubonic Plague Eating Wild Rabbit in Inner Mongolia

Jiang Rongmeng, a professor at a Beijing hospital considered one of the top centers for treating infectious diseases, told SCMP “No apparent human-to-human transmission has been detected so far, otherwise there would have been a community outbreak with more infections.” He also noted that pneumonia could be caused by a previously unknown or rare virus and that it may take up to a week to identify.

The Ministry of Health in Singapore also reported one suspected case involving a 3-year-old Chinese girl who had pneumonia and traveled to Wuhan. Hong Kong and Singapore have taken measures for screening incoming travelers at the airport for symptoms of the illness. 

Back in China, Wuhan police have arrested eight people for spreading rumors online about the cluster of pneumonia cases being linked to SARS, according to state-run newspaper Global Times

Cases of the new illness are rising right before the Spring Festival travel rush, otherwise known as chunyun, with millions of people expected to travel over the holiday. Wuhan health authorities are encouraging people to make sure there is sufficient air circulation in their homes and to wear a surgical mask in public places if necessary.

On Monday, the US government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a Watch Level 1 alert for China’s pneumonia outbreak. The CDC is advising travelers to Wuhan to avoid animals (alive or dead), animal markets and products that come from animals (such as uncooked meat), as well as to avoid contact with sick people and to wash their hands with soap and water often.

READ MORE: Two Cases of Deadly Pneumonic Plague Confirmed in Beijing

[Cover image via @广西新闻频道/Weibo]

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