No answers yet in China's pneumonia outbreak

Wuhan skyline
Wuhan skyline


As Chinese scientists continue their probe of an unusual viral pneumonia outbreak in Wuhan, local officials yesterday closed the seafood market that was linked to the cases, as governments in nearby Asian destinations stepped up their surveillance in travelers and at hospitals.

The yet-unidentified source of the outbreak has led to rumors, mainly on social media, about a possible severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak and speculation about the possible emergence of a new zoonotic virus.

Earlier this week, officials in Hubei province said 27 people were sick with pneumonia, 7 of them in serious condition, and that all were isolated.

Seafood market also sold other animals

A World Health Organization (WHO) official told the South China Morning Post (SCMP) that the group is in contact with Chinese authorities and that it is closely monitoring developments. Paige Snider, senior advisor to the WHO's China office, told the paper that investigations are still underway and authorities haven't yet confirmed the pathogen that's causing the illness.

The city where the outbreak occurred is home to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, one of the country's top virology labs, which conducts work on emerging viruses and has connections with other global research groups.

According to local media cited by the SCMP report, the Huanan Seafood Market sold other animals, such as birds, pheasants, and snakes, along with organs of rabbits and other wildlife, triggering worries about the potential jump of an unknown virus to humans at the market.

China's neighbors step-up screening

In response, nearby jurisdictions have increased their border screening, and three travelers from Wuhan have been admitted to the hospital in Hong Kong.

After an inter-departmental meeting on the Wuhan pneumonia cases, Hong Kong officials briefed reporters on the developments. According to a transcript, Sophia Chan, secretary for food and health, said Hong Kong hasn't received any Wuhan-related severe pneumonia cases and that the three patients admitted to hospitals in Hong Kong had not visited the Wuhan market.

Chan also told reporters that starting tomorrow, the Hong Kong government will announce the number of related cases flagged by its heightened surveillance system. She also said surveillance has been increased at the hospital authority and the health department, notably at ports, where increased screening for patients with fevers is taking place.

Taiwan's Center for Disease Control announced similar stepped-up measures and had more details about one of the patients hospitalized in Hong Kong after travel to Wuhan, according to a government statement translated and posted by Avian Flu Diary, an infectious disease news blog. The patient had upper-respiratory symptoms and is isolated in stable condition. Rapid screening tests for seasonal flu, SARS, and avian flu were negative.

See also:

Dec 31, 2019, CIDRAP News scan "Chinese officials probe unidentified pneumonia outbreak in Wuhan"

Jan 1 SCMP story

Jan 2 Hong Kong government media briefing transcript

Jan 2 Avian Flu Diary post

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