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Chinese health officials this week revealed the full genome of a mystery pneumonia virus that sickened more than 40 people in the city of Wuhan, China.
Dubbed Wuhan-hu-1, Chinese scientists widely published the virus' full genome Monday with an eye toward quickly sourcing a vaccine or treatment from the global research community.
Xu Jianguo, head of an evaluation committee advising the Chinese government on the outbreak, told the magazine Science that researchers believe the virus developed in bats, which then infected other wild animals commonly consumed in the inland Hubei Province where Wuhan is the capital city. The virus probably mutated while living in the market animals into a form that could infect humans, Xu said.
State officials shut down and disinfected a fish-and-game market in the city Jan. 1 after they linked the respiratory infections there. The Huanan Seafood Market sold "chickens, bats, cats, marmots, and other wild animals" in addition to seafood, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
The disease seems to be relatively mild compared to fears it could mimic SARS (sever acute respiratory syndrome) or MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome), but the Wuhan-hu-1 virus seems less contagious with less serious symptoms than either of the culprits in those two previous outbreaks, Xu said.
"The virus is similar to some of the published viruses collected from bats," Xu told Science Jan. 10. "But it is not close to SARS and not close to MERS. No new patients have appeared, as far as I understand. It's good news. People fear something like SARS in 2003, but this is a different case. The outbreak is limited, but we should test patients one by one [to identify] pneumonia caused by other pathogens."
The CDC advises travelers to Wuhan to take the following advice:
- Avoid animals (alive or dead), animal markets, and products that come from animals (such as uncooked meat).
- Avoid contact with sick people.
- Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
If you have traveled to Wuhan and feel ill, stay home and avoid contact with people unless it is to seek medical care, the CDC states.
What Is the Treatment for Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is a general term for any condition that results in fluid in the lungs. In the case of the Wuhan-hu-1 virus, a viral infection causes cough and difficulty breathing. But in other cases the cause is bacterial or due to chemicals or particles inhaled from the environment. With viral pneumonia that has no known anti-viral drug like the cases reported in Wuhan, general supportive care is recommended to treat symptoms.
Initial treatment (before the causative organism has been identified) is called empiric treatment and is based upon the organisms most likely to be responsible for the illness, according to Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, a MedicineNet medical author and editor.
Over-the-counter pain and fever-reducing medications may be recommended for some people in addition to antibiotics or antiviral drugs for symptom relief. Do not take cough or cold medications when suffering from pneumonia without a doctor's approval, Dr. Stöppler said. In around 20% of cases, pneumonia must be managed in the hospital.
Antibiotics are not effective against viral pneumonia. Depending upon the type of virus that causes pneumonia, antiviral medications can provide benefit when started early in the course of the disease. For example, the medications oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) are used to treat influenza virus infections, Dr. Stöppler said.
Xu said existing antivirals researchers have tried against Wuhan-hu-1 have not worked, however.