The World Health Organization (WHO) emergency committee decided this Thursday in Geneva not to declare the international emergency due to the outbreak of the new coronavirus with an epicenter in the Chinese city of Wuhan. What follows are the certainties and open questions about the episode.
How did the outbreak begin?
The Chinese authorities notified on December 31 27 cases of pneumonia of unknown origin, seven of them serious. Those affected were apparently linked to a market in the city of Wuhan, a large metropolis with 11 million inhabitants, and the onset of symptoms dated back to December 8. The cause of the ailment was identified on January 7 as a new coronavirus. China said earlier this week that the pathogen could be transmitted from person to person, against the first signs.
What symptoms causes the virus?
The virus infects the respiratory tract and causes symptoms ranging from a mild condition (dry cough, fever …) to severe breathing difficulties and life-threatening pneumonia.
How is it spread?
The mechanisms are not clear, although the most likely form is through small drops of saliva that the virus carrier excretes when coughing. In any case, infections seem limited and have occurred between close contacts, such as family members and health workers.
Are there asymptomatic cases?
It is not yet known exactly, although experts consider it likely, as has happened with other similar viruses.
Is there any treatment?
There is no treatment or vaccine. Medical assistance focuses on the symptoms and on giving vital support to the patient.
How is it diagnosed?
China shared with the WHO the genetic sequence of the virus on January 12, five days after its identification. This allowed the creation of a specific diagnostic protocol that all member countries have. Without the analyzes, it is practically impossible to distinguish it from another type of pneumonia, or even from a flu.
How many people has it affected?
Those affected are already more 1,700 in all of China, of which 54 have died. The mechanisms are not yet known, but the disease affects more men and people over 45 years. Some thirty people infected abroad have also been detected, who had recently traveled to China.
Has the virus been rapid?
Experts stress that the virus is experiencing rapid expansion. In the country, the virus has already been identified in all regions except in Tibet. Outside of China, 33 cases have been diagnosed: seven in Thailand, four in Australia, three in France, Singapore, Japan, Taiwan and Malaysia; two in Vietnam, the United States and South Korea and one in Nepal. Everyone got the disease in China.
What is a coronavirus?
They are an extensive family of viruses that affect humans and various species of animals. The one that causes the common cold is one of them. Others only affect animals, but they can suffer mutations that allow them to jump species and make a person sick. They can also acquire the ability to transmit between humans. The best-known precedents are severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) that emerged in China in 2002 and caused more than 800 deaths and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), first identified in 2012 in Arabia Saudi and there have been 2,500 confirmed cases and 850 deaths. Research carried out so far indicates that the origin of both is in bats. In the first case, they jumped first to the civets (a mammal highly valued gastronomically in China) and then to humans, while in the second the virus first affected the camels. The Chinese authorities suspect that the new virus could arise from snakes sold illegally in the Wuhan market, although they do not rule out other sources such as small mammals (rats, badgers …).
What lethality has the new Wuhan virus?
Experts point out that the mortality rate of the new pathogen is low, over 3%, compared to similar viruses, according to the first available data. The SARS virus is attributed a mortality of between 10% and 18% of cases and that of the MERS reaches 35% of the patients notified, according to the WHO.
Could the virus mutate and become more virulent?
Although every virus is susceptible to a mutation (in fact, it is what causes humans to jump), since it was located it has remained quite stable, according to the WHO, which warns that it is a scenario that cannot be ruled out.
What measures have been taken?
China has decided to quarantine the city of Wuhan, from which it is not possible to leave or enter since last morning, and more than a dozen nearby towns. In them the use of masks has become widespread. In total, it has confined more than 46 million people. Airports in the vast majority of Asian countries, as well as the United States, United Kingdom and Russia, among others, have established control measures to detect travelers from affected areas with symptoms compatible with the new virus, although virtually all airlines already They have stopped flying from the surroundings of Wuhan.
What is WHO doing?
The organization has monitored the evolution of the outbreak almost from day one, as it has placed coronaviruses among the threats to cause a future global pandemic. The emergency committee decided on Thursday not yet to declare the international emergency.
What does the international emergency declaration imply?
The declaration of a public health emergency of international importance is adopted before an outbreak a situation “”serious, sudden, unusual and unexpected”” with health consequences whose impact extends beyond the affected country. The declaration begins the process that makes possible an immediate and coordinated international action. WHO has taken this decision five times: for influenza A