Bat virus possible cause of pneumonia in Wuhan: CDC

Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥)
Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥)(CNA)

TAIPEI (CNA) — Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said Saturday that a new type of bat coronavirus is highly possible to be the cause of a mysterious pneumonia outbreak in Wuhan, in China’s Hubei Province.

Judging from a complete sequence of the virus’s genome by the Chinese health authorities, CDC Deputy Director-General Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥) told reporters that the new coronavirus is more than 87 percent similar to a virus that originates in bats.

Chuang said the CDC is planning to have a rapid diagnostic test in place within a week and expects that it will be able to confirm whether patients have been infected by the illness in four hours.

At the end of last year, an unspecified type of pneumonia broke out in the Chinese city.

As of Jan. 10, a total of 41 such cases were confirmed in Wuhan, with one fatality, Chuang said, citing data compiled by China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Of the 41 cases, their symptoms were noted between Dec. 8, 2019 and Jan. 2, 2020 in Wuhan, Chuang said, but there have been no reports of person-to-person transmission of the respiratory disease.

Based on a report China sent to the World Health Organization, the source of infection is associated with animals sold at Huanan Seafood City, a market in Wuhan that has been temporarily shut down.

Chuang said the first death case involved a 61-year-old male who also had an abdominal tumor and chronic liver disease.

It has been rumored on news websites that the new type of coronavirus is similar to the virus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which originated in southern China and caused more than 8,098 cases which left 774 people dead in 37 countries worldwide, including Taiwan, in 2002-2003.

Liu Ming-tsan (劉銘燦), an official from the CDC’s inspection and vaccine development division, said that through a genome comparison, the new type of virus is 87.6 percent similar to bat coronavirus, 79 percent similar to SARS, and 52.5 percent similar to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), another viral respiratory illness.

Liu said despite the relatively highly similarity to bat coronavirus, the actual cause still could not be confirmed for the moment.

Earlier this week, the CDC confirmed human metapneumovirus as having caused flu-like symptoms in a Taiwanese preschooler living in Wuhan who returned to Taiwan, which quelled fears that he might have been infected with the unspecified type of pneumonia there.

Taiwan has listed the disease in Wuhan as a category 5 communicable disease, providing a legal basis for instituting mandatory reporting and quarantine for those exhibiting symptoms.

Other examples of category 5 communicable diseases include MERS, H7N9 influenza, Ebola and yellow fever, among others.

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