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2020-01-15 11:29:00

More than a month after dozens of mysterious pneumonia cases were first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, local health officials have acknowledged the possibility of limited human-to-human transmission.

“Existing survey results show that clear human-to-human evidence has not been found and the possibility of limited human-to-human transmission cannot be ruled out — though the risk of continued human-to-human transmission is low,” Wuhan’s health commission said Wednesday.

Some of the 41 people who have been infected with the novel coronavirus — the same virus family that causes SARS and Middle East respiratory syndrome, both of which were ruled out for the recent cases — apparently did not visit the city’s South China Seafood Wholesale Market, to which the infections were traced, according to the statement. The wife of a male patient who worked at the market is among those who contracted the virus without visiting the area.

“It is possible that there is limited human-to-human transmission, potentially among families,” Maria Van Kerkhove, acting head of the World Health Organization’s emerging diseases unit, told Reuters on Tuesday. “But it is very clear right now that we have no sustained human-to-human transmission.”

On Monday, a 61-year-old Chinese woman who had traveled to Thailand from Wuhan became the first imported case of the novel coronavirus, the World Health Organization said, citing Thai health authorities. The woman — who exhibited symptoms including fever and sore throat — was intercepted at Bangkok’s international airport on Jan. 8 and hospitalized soon after.

The woman had no history of visiting the South China Seafood Wholesale Market, although she frequented another wet market before developing a fever on Jan. 5, according to the WHO.

In Wednesday’s statement, the Wuhan Health Commission said that the woman is in stable condition at a Thai hospital, adding that none of her travel companions have reported similar symptoms.

Hu Bijie, deputy director of the Institute of Respiratory Diseases in Shanghai, told financial news outlet Caixin that “theoretically speaking, most respiratory viruses are transmissible between humans, with the only difference being to what degree.”

On Tuesday, the Wuhan Health Commission reiterated that all 41 cases in the city were identified before Jan. 3, with none reported since. Seven of these individuals have been discharged from hospitals, six remain in critical condition, and none of the more than 700 close contacts of the infected have reported any symptoms.

A 61-year-old man with “serious underlying medical conditions” has been the outbreak’s only casualty so far. The patient, who died on Jan. 9, often shopped at the South China Seafood Wholesale Market.

“Older patients with underlying diseases are more likely to be in critical condition,” the city’s health authority said.

In an article in the China Medical Tribune, a state-run publication for health-related news, Lu Hongzhou, deputy director of the Fudan University-affiliated Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center, said there are currently no medicines for effectively treating the new coronavirus. The best course of action, he added, is to try and mitigate damage to the lungs and other organs.

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: Tuchong)