Wuhan virus has limited human-to-human transmission but could spread wider: WHO

In all, 41 cases of pneumonia have been reported in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, mainly through exposure at a seafood market.
In all, 41 cases of pneumonia have been reported in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, mainly through exposure at a seafood market.PHOTO: AFP

GENEVA (REUTERS, XINHUA) - There has been "limited" human-to-human transmission of a new coronavirus that has struck in China, mainly small clusters in families, but there is potential for wider spread, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Tuesday (Jan 14).

A Chinese woman has been quarantined in Thailand with a mystery strain, authorities said on Monday, the first time it has been detected outside China.

In all, 41 cases of pneumonia - a symptom of the disease - have been reported in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, mainly through exposure at a seafood market.

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, acting head of WHO's emerging diseases unit, told a Geneva news briefing that the agency had given guidance to hospitals worldwide about infection control in case of spread, including by a "super-spreading" event in a health care setting.

"From the information that we have it is possible that there is limited human-to-human transmission, potentially among families, but it is very clear right now that we have no sustained human-to-human transmission," she said.

The WHO is however preparing for the possibility that there could be a wider outbreak, she told a Geneva news briefing.

"It is still early days, we don’t have a clear clinical picture."

Some types of the virus cause less serious diseases, while others – like the one that causes Mers – are far more severe.

The UN agency has given guidance to hospitals worldwide about infection control in case the new virus spreads.

There is no specific treatment for the new virus, but anti-virals are being considered and could be "re-purposed", Dr Van Kerkhove said.

Preliminary lab tests cited by Chinese state media show that the virus could be from a new type of coronavirus.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause  Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars).   Some of the virus types cause less serious disease, while some, like the one that causes the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers), are far more severe. 

In all, 41 cases of pneumonia have been reported in Wuhan, which preliminary lab tests cited by state media showed could be from a new type of coronavirus, and one patient has died. There have since been no new cases or deaths, Wuhan health authorities said on Tuesday.

With Chinese New Year approaching on Jan. 25, when many Chinese tourists visit Thailand, the WHO called on Thai authorities, the public and holidaymakers to be on alert.  

Richard Brow, the agency’s representative in Thailand, said anyone with a fever and cough who had spent time in Wuhan should get checked out by a health worker.

Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul on late Tuesday visited a Thai hospital to see the Chinese woman who was being treated with the new coronavirus.  

Anutin said that the Chinese patient showed signs of improvement, had slept well and did not show symptoms of fever.

If the Department of Medical Sciences and Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Medicine both confirm that the Chinese patient is free of the virus, she will be discharged and will return to China, Anutin said.  

“We have earlier detected that three other Chinese people from Wuhan had a fever but were not infected with the new coronavirus,” said Anutin,

“If they recover, they will be discharged and can continue their tour in Thailand, ” said Anutin.