After Thailand, Japan confirms imported case of new coronavirus

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Update, Jan. 17, 2020: Thailand has confirmed a second imported case of the new coronavirus, while Chinese authorities reported a second death from the outbreak. The deceased was a 69-year-old male. He had severe myocarditis, abnormal renal function, and severe damage to multiple organ functions when he was admitted to hospital. A chest CT scan also showed pulmonary fibrous lesions and pleural effusion, or water in the lungs, according to Wuhan city health officials.

MANILA — Japan has confirmed its first imported case of a new coronavirus on Thursday, days after Thailand reported the first known imported case of an individual infected by the new virus.

Possible new coronavirus raises questions on epidemic preparedness

The world watches as China uncovers a new coronavirus as the source of the pneumonia-like symptoms that have affected 59 individuals in Wuhan province.

The case in Japan involves a 30-year-old Chinese national who was hospitalized on Jan. 10, four days after returning from Wuhan, Hubei province, according to Japan Times. He has since been discharged from hospital.

Although the patient has a known travel history to China’s Wuhan province, Japanese authorities said he did not visit the seafood market in Huanan, which was linked to the majority of cases of the new coronavirus in China. A 61-year-old Chinese woman who tested positive for the virus in Thailand also did not report visiting the same market, raising further questions but also suspicions that the virus could be transmitted between humans.

“The fact that some cases do not seem to be linked with the Huanan seafood market means we cannot exclude the possibility of limited human-to-human transmission,” the World Health Organization’s Regional Office in Western Pacific tweeted.

However, the U.N. health agency acknowledged there’s still a lot more to learn and uncover about the new coronavirus. There’s still no clear evidence to date of sustained human-to-human transmission.

It has been more than two weeks since Chinese authorities alerted WHO of a mysterious disease in the city of Wuhan, the capital of China’s Hubei province. At the time, authorities reported over three dozen cases of people showing pneumonia-like symptoms from an unknown source. By Jan. 9, authorities informed WHO that the source is likely a new coronavirus, after laboratory tests ruled out the severe acute respiratory syndrome-associated coronavirus, Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus influenza, avian influenza, adenovirus, and other common respiratory pathogens.

Reports of cases outside China started coming in after Chinese authorities shared the genetic sequence of the new coronavirus on Jan. 12, allowing countries to test and trace infected people. WHO says it’s possible that more cases will be found in other countries, thus renewing its call for countries to strengthen its preparedness activities. During the same period, Chinese authorities announced 41 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, down from the reported 59, with one death.

Of the 41 cases, one was found to involve both husband and wife, according to Wuhan city health committee. The husband was an employee at the South China Seafood Wholesale Market, but his wife denied being exposed to the market.

“We are still in the early stages of understanding this new virus, where it came from, and how it affects people. There [are] still many unknowns, and the situation may continue to evolve,” WHO said.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause varying levels of disease, from common colds to severe diseases that can be fatal. The SARS-associated coronavirus led to the deaths of 774 people during the 2003 outbreak. From 2012 until the end of November 2019 meanwhile, there have been 858 associated deaths from the MERS coronavirus.

Some coronaviruses can be easily transmitted between people, but not all. And several known coronaviruses circulating amongst animals have not yet infected humans, according to WHO.

About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.