The “mystery virus” that has so far infected at least 200 people in mainland China since the end of December has been detected in neighboring countries.
The pathogen, which presents symptoms similar to pneumonia, was identified on Jan. 8 as a new strain of coronavirus — the same family responsible for the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003.
On Monday, South Korea reported its first case of infection: a Chinese woman who had been to Wuhan — where the Huanan seafood market, the alleged origin of the virus, is located — before traveling to the country.
The 35-year-old, who arrived at Incheon International Airport, tested positive for the virus and suffered from fevers, respiratory problems, and other symptoms, according to Yonhap News.
She reportedly received a prescription for colds before proceeding to travel for a vacation in South Korea and Japan with five others, who have not reported symptoms but are still under observation.
“The patient is a 35-year-old Chinese woman who resides in Wuhan. She began experiencing fever, chills and muscle pains on Saturday and was prescribed medication for the common cold at a hospital in Wuhan,” said Dr. Jeong Eun-kyeong, director-general of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to KBS World Radio.
“Our investigators are currently conducting an in-depth epidemiological survey. The patient is in stable condition and is not suffering from pneumonia. Local communities have not been exposed to the virus since the patient tested positive while in quarantine.”
Last week, three other cases outside of China were reported: two in Thailand and one in Japan.
The cases in Thailand involve two Chinese women, aged 61 and 74, who both traveled from Wuhan, according to Reuters.
Meanwhile, the case in Japan involves a Chinese man in his 30s who had also been to Wuhan, according to The Japan Times.
“For Wuhan to have exported three cases to other countries would imply there would have to be many more cases than have been reported,” Prof. Neil Ferguson, a disease outbreak scientist from Imperial College London, told the BBC.
A British national currently fighting for his life in Thailand is also believed to be the first Western victim of the virus.
Ash Shorley, 32, was transported to a hospital in Phuket after acquiring a “pneumonia-style bug” in Koh Phi Phi that collapsed his lungs and disabled him from high-altitude travel.
“He was two days from death,” Shorley’s father, 55, told The Sun. “If he wasn’t so fit, he wouldn’t be with us now. We are now waiting on tests. It is very serious.”
However, as the case in Japan involved an individual who did not visit the Huanan seafood market — suggesting the virus could not be transmitted from one person to another — the World Health Organization noted that “it is not surprising” to find cases outside China and that “it is possible that there will be cases in other countries in the future.”
“The fact that some cases do not seem to be linked with the Huanan seafood market means we cannot exclude the possibility of limited human-to-human transmission,” the organization said in a tweet.
As of this writing, there are 201 reported cases of the infection in China — up from just 62 during the weekend — three of which resulted in deaths, CNN noted.
Despite these numbers, Beijing insists that it has everything under control.
“We’ve formulated prevention and control plans, treated patients, monitored their close contacts, conducted epidemiological research and released information in a timely matter,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a press conference, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The outbreak comes as China prepares for the Lunar New Year on Friday.
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