The unknown pneumonia-like disease outbreak in Wuhan in Hubei province probably originated from bats and spread through wild animals to humans, said a Hong Kong-based microbiologist and specialist of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
It was likely the Wuhan disease was a new kind of coronavirus similar to SARS, Yuen Kwok-Jung, the Chair of Infectious Disease at the Department of Microbiology of the University of Hong Kong, said Wednesday.
It would not be difficult for mainland authorities to identify the coronavirus as China had accumulated a lot of experience about virus testing since the SARS outbreak in 2003, Yuen said, adding that he would not speculate why the mainland had not released more information about the disease in the past two days.
There were six kinds of coronaviruses that could infect humans, as well as 24 other kinds that could infect animals including bats, birds, rats and cows, Yuen said.
As most Wuhan patients had connections with the Huanan Seafood Market, there was a high chance the unknown coronavirus was transmitted to wild animals from bats and became mutated before it spread to humans, he said.
Usually a new disease would not be highly infectious between humans so only people who had very close contact with the patients could be infected, he said. If the Wuhan disease was similar to SARS, patients could be cured by doses of ribavirin, protease inhibitor and interferon, he said.
People could help stop the spread of the disease simply by not eating wild animals, while markets should stop selling them, Yuen said. If 10-20 more cases are identified in Wuhan within the coming week, a community outbreak could have happened, he added.
Wearing a surgical mask, instead of a n95 mask, in public places is good enough to keep the Wuhan disease infection away, said David Hui Shu-cheong, chairman, Department of Medicine and Therapeutics, Faculty of Medicine, The Chinese University of Hong Kong.
People should wear surgical masks on public transport, in offices and schools as a mask can block 95% of the airborne droplets of secretions from the nose, throat or lungs, he said. People should also wear masks at home if they are sick, he said.
Medical staff can choose to wear n95 masks but not for long hours or they may suffer from headaches due to a lack of fresh air, Hui said.
At 8pm on Sunday, The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission released a statement saying, it had identified 59 people who were infected by an unknown pneumonia disease.
Seven cases were serious. The commission also said it had traced 163 people who were close to the patients and would continue the contact tracing.
However, the commission gave no update about the disease during the past two days, fueling concerns it was covering up some figures.
On Tuesday, Hong Kong’s Center for Health Protection announced that a total of 30 suspected cases related to the “severe respiratory disease associated with a novel infectious agent” had been reported since December 31.
Thirteen people have recovered and left hospitals and none of the cases were confirmed as the Wuhan disease.
Sophia Chan Siu-chee, the Secretary for Food and Health, said Wednesday in a Legislative Council meeting that she communicated with officials from China’s National Health Commission every day, but she could not get the new figures. She said based on a bilateral agreement, the mainland and Hong Kong would share information about infectious diseases.
Rebecca Chan Hoi-yan, a pro-establishment lawmaker and the political assistant to former Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man, said public hospitals would not be able to fight against the Wuhan disease as they were all full.
Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan criticized the Hong Kong government for having not done enough to ask for new figures from the Wuhan government.
Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu, another Civic Party legislator, said the government had to clarify whether it would recommend people wore masks in public places as it had previously banned protesters from wearing masks on the streets.
Chan avoided directly answering Yeung’s question, but said people who visit hospitals and clinics should wear masks, while those who feel sick should stay home.
She said public hospitals and clinics still had enough masks to use, while the Hospital Authority would continue to monitor the situation. She said a total of 1,400 beds would be added in 16 hospitals within days if necessary.