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  • Chinese authorities detected a new outbreak of coronavirus in December 2019.
  • The new coronavirus, officially called SARS-CoV-2, causes the disease COVID-19.
  • The death toll from the virus is now more than 3,400 worldwide.

Editor’s note: This is a developing story that’s been updated since it was first published. Healthline will continue to update this article when there’s new information.

Chinese scientists have identified a previously unknown type of coronavirus as the cause of a recent pneumonia outbreak in the city of Wuhan, according to state media.

The current situation follows the severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus (SARS) outbreak in 2002 and first detection of Middle East respiratory syndrome-coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in 2012.

Cases of COVID-19 have reached a milestone with more than 101,000 cases globally, according to data from Johns Hopkins.

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports a total of 164 cases in 19 states. This is in addition to the 49 people who contracted the disease and were repatriated back to the United States.

At least 12 people have died due to the virus in the United States.

In Washington state, where 11 people have died, the University of Washington announced it will no longer hold classes on campus for the rest of the quarter.

Instead, university officials are turning to online courses to avoid spreading the disease.

Nurses are also sounding an alarm over a lack of preparedness.

A survey by the union that represents nurses, National Nurses United, found a significant portion of nurses say they feel hospitals are unprepared for a major outbreak of the new coronavirus.

The survey included responses by 6,500 nurses in 48 states. It found a significant number of them don’t have clear information about how to handle patients who may be suspected of having the novel coronavirus.

Nearly a quarter said they’re not sure if there’s a plan to isolate patients with signs of COVID-19. Just under 30 percent report they know there’s a plan to isolate patients with symptoms of COVID-19.

The most populous U.S. state has declared a state of emergency after a person who had taken a cruise from San Francisco contracted and died from the new coronavirus.

The state of emergency declaration will help free up funds in order to fight the spread of the virus and help protect against price gouging.

The virus has started to rapidly spread in the United States, especially on the West Coast.

California Governor Gavin Newsom said in a press conference that 29 people had tested positive for the virus in the state. This doesn’t include the 24 people who had been repatriated to the United States after contracting the disease abroad.

The Grand Princess cruise ship is currently not allowing any passengers to disembark until testing can be done on people with symptoms of respiratory illness.

The CDC along with the Coast Guard are sending test kits via helicopter to check and see whether the new coronavirus is spreading on the ship.

Health officials in Placer County said the deceased had likely contracted the virus while on a cruise from San Francisco to Mexico. The person was elderly with underlying health conditions.

“We extend our deepest condolences to the loved ones of this patient,” Placer County Health Officer Dr. Aimee Sisson said in a statement. “While we have expected more cases, this death is an unfortunate milestone in our efforts to fight this disease, and one that we never wanted to see.”

In addition to the death in California, as of March 3, Washington state has reported 11 COVID-19 related deaths. Many of those who died were from one nursing home.

Fighting the virus has been hampered by a lack of test kits. Delays in testing meant people who were treated and died in February were just confirmed to have contracted the virus.

In total, 19 states have reported cases of COVID-19 and a total of 164 people have been confirmed or are suspected of having the infection.

A lack of testing in the United States has drawn concern from experts worried that officials may be missing people who could have the disease.

Testing kits from the CDC were delayed after issues were found in results during quality control testing. Without access to test kits, samples had to be sent to CDC headquarters, delaying test results.

In a press briefing, officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) said that the fatality rate for the new coronavirus may be higher than previously realized.

The WHO says the fatality rate is around 3 percent for COVID-19 among reported cases. However, it’s suspected that many cases of the virus were mild and haven’t been confirmed. This would make the fatality rate lower than 3 percent.

Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the WHO, said that COVID-19 doesn’t appear to spread as efficiently as the flu.

“This virus is not SARS, it’s not MERS, and it’s not influenza. It is a unique virus with unique characteristics,” he said.

But it may be more deadly.

“Globally, about 3.4 percent of reported #COVID19 cases have died,” he said. “By comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1 percent of those infected.”

A 70-year-old law called the Defense Production Act allows the president to speed production of materials for purposes of national security.

Health Secretary Alex M. Azar II confirmed it might be used to speed production of COVID-19-related medical supplies on Feb. 28, according to The New York Times.

“I don’t have any procurements I need it for now, but if I need it, we’ll use it,” Azar told reporters at a White House briefing on the administration’s request to Congress for emergency funds to respond to the virus.

Azar also said that if the new coronavirus began spreading widely, those showing mild symptoms shouldn’t seek help at hospitals. Instead, they should stay home to avoid the risk of overcrowding health facilities.

On Feb. 28, the WHO raised the threat assessment of the coronavirus to its highest level.

Ghebreyesus briefed reporters on the status of the outbreak.

“We have now increased our assessment of the risk of spread to and the risk of impact of COVID-19 to very high at global level,” he said.

However, Ghebreyesus reported that the virus doesn’t appear to be spreading so rapidly that it can’t be stopped yet.

“Most cases can still be cases to known contacts or clusters of cases. We do not see evidence as of yet that the virus is spreading freely in communities, as long as that is the case we still have a chance of containing this virus,” he said.

The total number of cases across the globe now stands at more than 101,000, and total deaths are more than 3,400.

Researchers from Mount Sinai confirmed they can use CT scans to speed diagnosis of individuals with symptoms of COVID-19.

The New York–based researchers published their findings in the journal Radiology after analyzing the scans of 94 patients in China admitted to the hospital for treatment.

“Mount Sinai Health System physicians — the first experts in the country to analyze chest computed tomography (CT) scans of patients from China with coronavirus disease (COVID-19) — have identified specific patterns in the lungs as markers of the disease as it develops over the course of a week and a half,” Mount Sinai said in a statement.

According to researchers, out of 36 patients scanned from 0 to 2 days after reporting symptoms, more than half didn’t show evidence of lung disease — which suggests that CT scans can’t rule out disease early.

In 33 patients scanned 3 to 5 days after symptoms, the radiologists detected hazy findings in the lungs called “ground glass opacities,” indicative of the disease.

Patients examined 6 to 12 days afterward universally showed signs of lung disease.

“If coronavirus should continue to spread and impact the United States or elsewhere more significantly, this study equips radiologists with the knowledge to recognize and more confidently suggest if a patient has COVID-19 or pneumonia due to another cause,” said co-author Dr. Michael Chung, assistant professor of diagnostic, molecular, and interventional radiology at the Icahn School of Medicine, in a statement.

However, a recent case study finds conclusive evidence that someone who shows no symptoms can still transmit the virus to others.

Chinese researchers confirmed that a young woman from Wuhan transmitted the virus to her family while never showing symptoms herself.

Also, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC) analyzed records of China’s reported cases of COVID-19 from Dec. 8 to Feb. 11 to find that a little more than 1 percent of patients with the virus showed no sign of infection.

New clusters of the coronavirus have also popped up in Iran, Italy, Japan, and South Korea, making health officials nervous that the virus could become a global pandemic.

Researchers are studying how people who’ve contracted the virus shed it, and what impact that’s having on affected populations.

One new study has found answers that many won’t find comforting.

Testing and confirmation of COVID-19 is currently carried out by oral swabs. But research published Feb. 17 in the Emerging Microbes & Infections finds evidence that there’s an oral-fecal transmission route.

The scientists reported that its genetic material was detected in both anal swabs and blood samples.

“We detected the virus in oral swabs, anal swabs, and blood, thus infected patients can potentially shed this pathogen through respiratory, fecal-oral, or body fluid routes,” the study authors wrote.

Chinese researchers conducted the study in a Wuhan, China, hospital, and analyzed samples collected from about 180 patients.

Crucially, evidence of COVID-19 was found in anal swabs and blood — even when it wasn’t detected using oral swabs. According to the study, this was particularly true for those people receiving supportive care for several days.

Findings also suggest that timing is an important factor.

On day 1 of the illness, 80 percent of oral swabs were COVID-19-positive, but by day 5, 75 percent of anal swabs were positive, while only half of the oral swabs showed infection, according to the study.

“These results confirm that COVID-19 patients have live virus in stool specimens, which is a new finding in the transmission routes of 2019-nCoV,” wrote authors of a study, published by the CCDC publication CCDC Weekly.

This means that sneezing isn’t the only way for transmission. Blood and fecal matter can carry the virus, even when conventional testing comes back negative.

“The virus can also be transmitted through the potential fecal-oral route. This means that stool samples may contaminate hands, food, water, etc., and may cause infection by invading the oral cavity, respiratory mucosa, conjunctiva, etc,” study authors concluded.

Although medical staff, people with illnesses, and older adults are most at risk, more than 80 percent of COVID-19 cases have been mild, according to a report from the CCDC.

The Hubei province in China, where the infection is believed to have originated, is the hardest hit, according to the report.

The province’s death rate is almost 3 percent, compared with just under a half percent in the rest of the country.

The extremely infectious coronavirus sweeping through China’s Hubei province will become a “community virus” in the United States, if not this year, then the next, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield told CNN on Feb. 13.

“This virus is probably with us beyond this season, beyond this year, and I think eventually the virus will find a foothold and we will get community-based transmission,” said Redfield. “Right now we’re in an aggressive containment mode.”

Redfield emphasized that the CDC doesn’t have any evidence that coronavirus is “really embedded in the community at this time, but with that said, we want to intensify our surveillance so that we’re basing those conclusions based on data.”

Alarmingly, one of the more concerning aspects of COVID-19 is that someone with it can transmit it when they have no obvious symptoms.

“There’s been good communication with our colleagues to confirm asymptomatic infection, to confirm asymptomatic transmission, to be able to get a better handle on the clinical spectrum of illness in China. What we don’t know though is how much of the asymptomatic cases are driving transmission,” Redfield confirmed.

U.S. military forces have been told to prepare for a possible pandemic situation due to the new coronavirus, according to recently issued Navy and Marine Corps service-wide messages.

The bulletin emphasized, “An outbreak of new (novel) coronavirus is rapidly evolving [but] currently poses a low risk to personnel located in CONUS [contiguous United States].”

Meanwhile, the WHO is rallying the international community to act rapidly.

“The first vaccine could be ready in 18 months, so we have to do everything today using the available weapons to fight this virus, while preparing for the long-term,” said Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, in a statement. “You strike hard when the window of opportunity is there. That’s what we’re saying to the rest of the world.”

Officials from the CDC reported issues with tests designed to detect if someone is infected with the new coronavirus.

Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a press conference on Feb. 12 that the tests were sent out to different states and at least 30 countries.

As part of routine testing, issues were discovered with the tests called a 2019-nCoV Real-Time RT-PCR Diagnostic Panel.

“The states identified some inconclusive laboratory results,” she explained. “We are working closely with them to correct the issues.”

Messonnier said that replacement materials would be sent out for states that reported issues.

“Speed is important, but equally or more important in this situation is making sure the laboratory results are correct,” she said.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency authorization on Feb. 4 allowing public health labs to use the test that can detect whether someone has contracted the new coronavirus.

This authorization was especially significant for the United States because hospitals and public health departments were in theory able to conduct testing on-site rather than shipping virus samples directly to the CDC.

Until these issues are fixed, local medical officials will still have to send samples to the CDC.

The WHO announced on Feb. 11 that the disease caused by the new coronavirus originating in China would now be called COVID-19.

Basically the virus itself is called SARS-CoV-2 and the disease that it results from the virus is COVID-19.

Previously, it had been called 2019nCoV, although many media outlets referred to it simply as coronavirus, even though that refers to a larger family of viruses.

The WHO announced that it’s declaring a public health emergency of international concern based on the outbreak of the new coronavirus.

Ghebreyesus said at a press conference that they were concerned about the virus’ ability to spread outside of China.

“The main resound or the declaration is not because of what is happening but because of what is happening in other continues. The greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker systems… that are ill-prepared to deal with it,” Ghebreyesus said.

Person-to-person transmission has been seen among people in contact with those who have the virus.

The full picture of how easily and sustainably this coronavirus spreads is still unclear.

Person-to-person transmission can happen on a continuum, with some viruses being highly contagious (like measles) and others being less so.

“This is a very serious public health situation,” said Messonnier in an earlier statement.

“Moving forward, we can expect to see more cases, and more cases means more potential for person-to-person spread,” she said.

According to the WHO, initial information about the pneumonia cases in Wuhan, provided by Chinese authorities, pointed to the coronavirus as the pathogen causing this cluster.

Chinese authorities reported that laboratory tests ruled out SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, influenza, avian influenza, adenovirus, and other common infectious agents.

More than 8,000 people contracted the SARS virus, and almost 800 died in the 2002 pandemic.

The SARS virus spread to nearly 40 countries in 2002 and 2003. The same type of virus was associated with a similar outbreak of MERS, which was first identified in 2013 in Saudi Arabia.

According to the WHO, MERS has been responsible for about 850 deaths worldwide.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, with some causing less severe disease, like the common cold. Although some easily transmit from person to person, others don’t.

China state media reported that some of the people who fell ill between Dec. 12 and 29 are sellers from a local wholesale seafood market.

That market has since been shut down for cleaning and disinfection, according to the CDC.

“What’s happening over there is in a particular area of China at a seafood market, and… it [first] appears that transmission is from animal to human,” Dr. Nikhil Bhayani, an infectious disease physician with Texas Health Resources, told Healthline.

“Corona means ‘crown,’ so these viruses appear crown-shaped when looked at under an electron microscope,” said Dr. Bhanu Sud, an infectious disease specialist at St. Jude Medical Center in Placentia, California.

“Most coronaviruses are harmless,” he said. “They’ll usually cause mild to moderate upper respiratory tract illnesses, like the common cold. Most people will get infected with these viruses at some point in their lives.”

Sud emphasizes that while the outlook is good for most people infected with this type of virus, the SARS and MERS strains are more serious.

The death rate is around 10 percent for people with SARS and 30 percent for those with the MERS variant.

“What is unknown right now is the virus being typed. They’re doing testing to find out what type of virus this is and whether it’s more similar to SARS or MERS,” Bhayani said. “I have a strong feeling that this is going to be a new virus.”

According to Sud, human coronaviruses most commonly transmit from an infected person to others via:

  • the air by coughing and sneezing
  • close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
  • touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before washing your hands

“In the United States, people usually get infected with common human coronaviruses in the fall and winter. However, infection can occur at any time of the year,” he said.

“Most people will get infected with one or more of the common human coronaviruses in their lifetime,” he added.

Sud also points out both SARS and MERS outbreaks were from animal-to-human contact, with SARS most likely from contact with bats and MERS from contact with camels.

“Since the organism causing infection is a virus, to date, we don’t have any specific antiviral medications,” Sud said.

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