Everything you need to know about the Wuhan coronavirus

A new coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China, has global health agencies on high alert—and is causing no small amount of anxiety around the world. But for residents of the United States, there is still no reason to panic. Here is everything experts know about the new virus—2019-nCoV—so far. We’ll keep this post updated as more information comes available.

What is the Wuhan Coronavirus?

Colloquially known as the “Wuhan coronavirus” after the city where it is believed to have originated, the disease is still poorly understood, and seems to be changing rapidly. The first cases of 2019-nCoV appeared in December in the Chinese city of Wuhan, and likely came from some non-human animal host. Its exact source has yet to be identified.

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that often cause mild respiratory symptoms (the common cold is one of them), but some can cause serious illness. Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV), which jumped from bats to humans in China’s Guangdong Province in 2002, infected more than 8,000 people worldwide and killed at least 774. Experts say China’s handling of the new outbreak shows a drastic improvement in public health policy compared to the mishandling of SARS—officials denied the existence of the outbreak seemingly as long as possible and didn’t cooperate with the international community to manage the disease. While there is some question about whether officials in Wuhan moved quickly enough—and whether the central government approved the release of information as quickly as it should have—the country has been more forthcoming. Scientists were also much quicker to sequence the genome of this new virus than the one behind SARS, and released it to international research collaborators on January 10.

Symptoms of 2019-nCoV include cough, fever, and difficulty breathing, but seem to usually be quite minor or even nonexistent in infected individuals. However, life-threatening pneumonia is possible for any patient—and the elderly, individuals with underlying health problems, and people with compromised immune systems are at particularly high risk.

Where has the Wuhan Coronavirus been identified?

As of Monday, cases had been confirmed in China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Australia, Cambodia, Canada, France, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Singapore, Thailand, South Korea, Vietnam, and The United States. Officials with China’s National Health Commission said on Monday that cases were up to 2,744 with 461 considered to be severe, according to NBC.

There have been 81 fatalities, all within China, and most clustered around the center of the outbreak’s origin. These stats would indicate a mortality rate of around 3 percent, but The Guardian points out that the actual rate is likely lower; because most cases are so minor as to avoid detection, it’s likely that the rate of fatalities is inflated.

How many cases of Wuhan Coronavirus have been confirmed in the United States?

As of Monday, January 27, the Centers for Disease Control had reported five confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV: One patient in Everett, Washington; one patient in Chicago, one in Los Angeles County, California; one patient in Orange County, California; and one in Maricopa County, Arizona. All five patients had recently traveled to Wuhan, China—the thought-to-be source of the outbreak—and are being treated in isolation to prevent the pathogen’s spread.

The CDC reported on Monday that an additional 105 people in the United States were identified as possible cases, but that 32 had tested negative. Another 73 cases are still pending. The CDC expects more cases to emerge, as the virus can seemingly be spread via coughs and sneezes, and because reports from China indicate that the vast majority of patients have symptoms minor enough to be mistaken for a cough or cold. The CDC maintains that risk to the U.S. population remains low, and while China has reported that asymptomatic patients can transmit the disease, the CDC reports that it has not seen evidence of this.

What is China doing to prevent further spread of the virus?

The New York Times reported Monday that the Chinese government would extend the country’s weeklong Lunar New Year holiday by three days in an attempt to spread out and shrink the region’s traditional mass gatherings. Known as the world’s largest annual human migration, an estimated 3 billion trips will take place during this holiday. The timing is “kind of an epidemiological nightmare,” Katherine Mason, a Brown University medical anthropologist, told Popular Science on January 23.

Wuhan, a city of around 11 million people, remains largely on lockdown, with other restrictions on travel and public gatherings affecting tens of millions in surrounding areas. The country has allocated $9 billion to contain the virus.

What is the United States doing to prevent further spread of the virus?

All five confirmed U.S. patients are being treated in isolation, and the CDC has implemented enhanced health screening for patients coming from Wuhan and entering several major airports. Travelers who may come into contact with the virus are urged to follow basic precautions, such as avoiding people who are coughing or sneezing and frequently washing hands thoroughly. Anyone who has recently traveled to the Wuhan area or come into close contact with someone who has should keep on the lookout for symptoms and see a doctor immediately if they start to feel sick.