TOKYO (Bloomberg): A man who had travelled to Japan from the central Chinese city of Wuhan was infected with a new pneumonia-causing virus, widening a Sars-like outbreak first reported in China less than three weeks ago.
The resident of Kanagawa prefecture, aged in his 30s, developed fever on Jan 3 before returning to Japan on Jan 6, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare said in a statement on Thursday (Jan 16).
He was hospitalised on Jan 10 with pneumonia, and discharged five days later after his condition improved.
Like a case reported on Monday of a Chinese traveller to Thailand, the man had not visited the wholesale seafood market in Wuhan implicated in the outbreak, which has hospitalised dozens of people, killing one.
The novel coronavirus, thought to be the source of the infections, has captured international attention because of similarities with the one that sparked the severe acute respiratory syndrome, or Sars, 17 years ago.
Unlike Sars, which killed almost 800 people, the so-called 2019-nCoV virus does not appear to spread easily between people. But cases in Japan and Thailand reported this week suggest it may be spreading more widely in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people.
“Cases like the ones who travelled to Thailand and Japan after being exposed in Wuhan are not unexpected, ” Dr Michael Osterholm, director of the Centre for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said in an e-mail.
“But public health officials are still laser-focused on whether any of the cases residing in China or now somewhere else in the world will turn out to be ‘super shedders’ and potentially infect many contacts.”
The outbreak has been linked to a wholesale seafood market in Wuhan that also sold live animals such as poultry, bats and marmots, along with wildlife parts.
That has prompted concern that the infectious respiratory pathogen has emerged from an as-yet unidentified animal reservoir.
Since the patient in Japan did not visit the seafood market in Wuhan, it is possible he was infected via another source. There is a possibility he had close contact with unspecified pneumonia patients in China, Japan’s health ministry said.
So far, no infections among healthcare workers have been reported, and there is no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission, the World Health Organisation has said.
On Monday, Thai authorities reported that a woman living in Wuhan travelled with a tour group to Bangkok on Jan 8 – three days after experiencing fever, chills, sore throat and a headache – and was hospitalised on her arrival.
Lab studies confirmed she was infected with the 2019-nCoV virus, making her the first case outside China.
The traveller was a regular visitor to a fresh produce market in Wuhan, but had not visited the one linked to most of the other cases.
That has raised the possibility that the pathogen is lurking more widely in the city – a worrying prospect ahead of the Lunar New Year, celebrated on Jan 25 this year, which spurs frenzied grocery shopping, including sometimes exotic foods.
The 2019-nCoV virus is at least 70 per cent similar in its genetic makeup to the Sars virus, a 12-person multinational team of researchers said in a report prepared on Monday for the International Journal of Infectious Diseases.
The Wuhan virus “appears clinically milder” in terms of severity, fatality rate and transmissibility than cases of Sars and an infection caused by a related virus known as Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, or Mers-CoV, the researchers said.
No new related pneumonia cases have been detected in China since Jan 3, the municipal health commission in the city of Wuhan said last Saturday.
Genetic studies of virus material collected from patients indicated that 41 people had been infected with the novel coronavirus, instead of the 59 previously counted, it said on Sunday. - Bloomberg