This is an outbreak of disease that stated in Wuhan, one of the central Chinese cities. Its caused by a novel coronavirus that means its brand new Novel coronavirus. So new that actually, it doesn’t have a name yet.
What are the symptoms?
It's from a family called the coronaviruses. The symptoms of this illness are pretty mundane on the face of it, so dry cough, fever then breathing problems. It seems quite mild in lots of people and probably those don’t end up in the hospital at all. We only know about the more severe cases which are where people have gone on to develop viral pneumonia and those people obviously end up in the hospital and all the deaths have been amongst those people.
Where have cases been confirmed so far?
This brand new coronavirus came from animals and it believed that the source was actually a seafood market in WUHAN, which also sells wild animals. So far, as far as we know all the cases have come out of Wuhan. So some of these people are in places like Thailand and Japan, but they haven’t picked it up there they actually got it in Wuhan, and then they traveled.
Should I be panicking about this outbreak?
In China, where most cases are, it’s older people who are ending up in the hospital with this. They’re usually over 40 and the very youngest person diagnosed is about 13 or 14 years old. So it doesn’t appear to be affecting small children and those who’ve died to tend actually to have underlying conditions, as they say.
They are frail, they may have heart disease or cancer already and so they’re vulnerable. Basically, their immune systems are not very robust and they’re going to find it very hard to fight off a virus.
How is the virus transmitted?
We’ve only just discovered that the new coronavirus is actually transmitted from one person to another. It was hoped at first actually that it just came from animals, as all coronaviruses do, but now it looks as though it is actually passed from one human being to another. So we’ve got people to people transmission because the market’s been closed for some time and there are cases in people who’ve never been near it.
What treatment is available?
So there actually isn’t any treatment at the moment at all. Because this is a virus, antibiotics won’t work, they only work against bacteria, not viruses. So really you want an antiviral treatment but none of the flu drugs that we’ve got, we have got a couple of those, will work on this. Coronavirus is different from the flu virus. So there actually isn’t any treatment at the moment at all.
How serious is this outbreak compared to others in the past?
This one is scary because it is a brand new virus so we don’t know how it’s going to behave, but I have to say we perhaps ought to put it in the context of some of the other things. I went to sierra leone to cover the west Africa outbreak of Ebola and that was killing more than half of all those people who were infected. Sars, which was a novel coronavirus just like this one back in 2002, did end up causing global panic and that was large because nobody had ever seen it before but also the death rate was around 10%. Here, so far we’re talking about a death rate of 2% which is a lot less and it does look as if many of those people actually have had underlying health problems, which would make it more likely that they would die. I think they could equally have died of flu so you have to put it in that context.