One Dead in Pneumonia Outbreak from New Coronavirus in China
One Dead in Pneumonia Outbreak from New Coronavirus in China

One Dead in Pneumonia Outbreak from New Coronavirus in China

Scientists release a draft genome of the virus that has been identified in 41 patients.

Amy Schleunes
Amy Schleunes
Jan 13, 2020

ABOVE: © ISTOCK.COM, JULIEN VIRY

Health authorities in Wuhan, China, reported on Saturday the death of a 61-year-old man in a mysterious pneumonia outbreak linked to a seafood market, according to Reuters. The patient was one of 41 confirmed cases, seven of whom are severely ill, the World Health Organization (WHO) wrote in a statement published yesterday (January 12). The Wuhan Municipal Health Committee confirmed that the man who died had underlying health issues, including abdominal tumors and chronic liver disease, reports STAT. 

Last week, the Chinese state media reported that the pneumonia outbreak was caused by a novel coronavirus. Other types of coronavirus can cause a cold and more serious infections, including severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

On Saturday, Chinese researchers published a draft genome of the coronavirus. According to their report, the virus “is similar to some of the betacoronaviruses detected in bats, but is distinct from SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV.” STAT reports that there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission of the virus, suggesting that all infections have occurred from exposure to an infected animal.

Global health experts are praising the decision to release the genome. “As a result of Wuhan, China & beyond sharing the sequence data, the advice China CDC & WHO can offer is hugely enhanced, diagnostic tests can be improved, serological assays developed & the data used to support evidenced based policy-a great day for global public health,” writes Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, in a tweet.

Virus researcher Ralph Baric of the University of North Carolina set out to reverse engineer a live virus from the sequence in his lab as soon as the draft genome was published, according to Science. “One of the things that’s sad is that the public doesn’t realize how incredibly competent the public health and the basic science community are at going from a newly discovered virus to a tremendous amount of capacity to trace and try to control its spread,” Baric tells Science.

Previous news reports had cited 59 instances of the illness. According to the WHO’s statement, there have been no additional pneumonia cases reported since January 3, and “investigations are still underway to determine the full extent of the outbreak.”

Amy Schleunes is an intern at The Scientist. Email her at aschleunes@the-scientist.com.