Fears are mounting across Asia over the cross-border spread of a new coronavirus identified in China that has killed one patient and sickened dozens, as health authorities race to identify the source of the pathogen.
The new strain of coronavirus, in the same family as the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), originated in Wuhan, the largest city in central China. It was confirmed Thursday to have been detected in Japan, a few days after Thailand confirmed its first case of infection.
The outbreak has cast a shadow over Lunar New Year celebrations and put the rest of Asia on alert. Virologists around the world are now studying its genome sequence shared by Chinese researchers, but many questions still remain.
Researchers have yet to rule out the possibility that the virus could be transmitted from person to person, and on Wednesday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a Watch Level 1 Alert — the lowest of a three-tier travel health notices that warns visitors of Wuhan to “be aware and practice usual precautions.”
On Thursday, Japanese authorities confirmed that a man who had traveled to Wuhan was infected with the virus.
The man, in his 30s, lives in the coastal Kanagawa Prefecture just south of Tokyo. He developed a high fever on January 3 while in Wuhan, and returned three days later to Japan, where he was tested positive for the virus, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.
He has since recovered and was discharged from hospital on Wednesday, the ministry said. He said he had not visited the seafood market linked to the outbreak while in Wuhan.
The confirmation comes just days after Thai authorities said a Chinese tourist arriving from Wuhan had been quarantined with the new virus, the first time it had been detected outside China.
According to the World Health Organization, the 61-year-old woman also said she had not been to the seafood market in Wuhan. But she did report “a history of visiting a local fresh market in Wuhan on a regular basis prior to the onset of illness” on January 5, the WHO said in a statement.
The first, and the majority, of the infected cases in Wuhan have been traced to the Nanhua Wholesale Seafood Market, which has been shut down for disinfection since January 1. Wuhan health authorities said on Wednesday that some “environmental samples” taken from the market tested positive for the virus.
Apart from fish, the market also sold other live animals, including birds, rabbits and snakes — sparking concerns that the virus might have been transmitted to humans from animals, just like SARS and MERS.