China confirmed that the deadly Wuhan virus sweeping the country can spread from human to human, increasing the risk of an epidemic

china wuhan virus

Reuters

Medical staff at the Jinyintan hospital in Wuhan, which houses patients with the Wuhan coronavirus.

  • China's mysterious and deadly coronavirus can be spread from person to person, Chinese medical authorities confirmed on Monday.
  • Officials are scrambling to contain 2019-nCoV, a SARs-like infection that originated in a seafood and meat market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
  • The virus, which has pneumonia-like symptoms including fever and difficulty breathing, has already spread from Wuhan to Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen, as well as South Korea, Thailand, and Japan.
  • The spread could accelerate as hundreds of millions of people prepare to travel home for the Lunar New Year holiday this week and cram into crowded train stations and airports.
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China's mysterious deadly coronavirus can spread from person to person, China's top medical authority announced on Monday.

Chinese and international authorities are scrambling to slow the spread of 2019-nCoV, a SARs-like illness known as the Wuhan virus because the infection originated in a seafood and meat market in the central Chinese metropolis.

Authorities initially believed the illness was largely being transmitted from animals to humans. Confirmation that it can move directly between people makes the threat even more severe, and increases the risk to other countries.

"Now we can say it is certain that it is a human-to-human transmission phenomenon," said Zhong Nanshan, the scientist the Chinese government has appointed to lead the effort to battle the disease.

Three people in Wuhan had died from the illness as of Monday, local health authorities said.

The total number of infections in the country tripled over the weekend to at least 218. Some scientific estimates suggests that the ture scale of the disease may be an order of magnitude higher than the official confirmed cases.

The virus, which has pneumonia-like symptoms including fever and difficulty breathing, has already spread to Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen, as well as South Korea, Thailand, and Japan.

The World Health Organization said it will convene an emergency meeting on Wednesday to determine what kind of international response the outbreak requires.

Neil Ferguson, a public health expert at Imperial College London, told The New York Times that the danger posed by the virus depends on how "efficiently" it spreads from person to person.

If the transmission process is very effective, it will be able to spread a long way very quickly. If it is relatively hard for the virus to spread, it will be easier to contain.

It's unclear how many people have been infected through human transmission.

There are fears that the pace of infection will intensify as hundreds of millions of people travel within China and internationally for Lunar New Year, also known as Chinese New Year, this week.

More people travel home annually for the New Year holidays than during any other time of year.

Health authorities across Asia are ramping up measures to spot and contain people carrying the disease, with medics in hazmat suits taking passengers' temperatures before planes can fly out from Wuhan and various airports increasing health screenings of people traveling from China.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is screening incoming passengers from China at airports in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, as are health authorities in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Tokyo.

Alex Ma contributed reporting.

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