Science

The outbreak in Wuhan is caused by a SARS virus

The new pathogen circulating in China is a Sars virus similar to that in the Sars pandemic 2002 /

according to the Berlin virus researcher Christian Drosten . “It is the same type of virus, only in a different variant,” said the director of the Institute of Virology at the Charité in Berlin. The main differences are in the proteins with which the virus docks onto human cells.

In the Sars pandemic, around 8000 cases were recorded worldwide from China, more than 800 People died. According to Drost, the occurrence of a previously unknown virus like the current outbreaks in humans occurs about every ten years.

So far, the new pathogen has been detected in 41 sick people, the Chinese authorities report. Several patients are in critical condition. A 61 year old with severe previous illnesses is said to have died of the infection.

Suspected cases also in Thailand, South Korea and Singapore

There are also suspected cases in Thailand, South Korea and Singapore. However, these should be assessed with caution, even if there is an alleged laboratory confirmation, Drosten said. The meaningfulness of the tests used is different, test results may need to be revised afterwards. According to Drosten, the World Health Organization (WHO) is currently working with the countries on establishing a uniform diagnostic test.

The fact that no new diseases have been reported from China for a few days gives reason for hope. But another factor is reassuring: “So far there are no doctors and no nursing staff with symptoms.” This is a good indication that the virus is not easily transmitted. According to current knowledge, it causes fever and symptoms of pneumonia. “The upper respiratory tract is not affected, for example there is no runny nose.” From a lung to a lungs, a pathogen is more difficult to get than with the droplets when sneezing not become known – which does not mean, however, that they cannot exist. “For example, the virus could have been transmitted by people who themselves remained symptom-free.”

The virus spread to humans at a market in Wuhan

The place of origin of the disease is currently the Huanan market in Wuhan, a 11 million-city in central China. “There is often a lot of crowds in such markets, wild animals are sold there live or freshly slaughtered,” explained Drosten. The Chinese authorities therefore already have a hypothesis of the animal species from which the pathogen could have spread to humans. “But this will only be officially announced when it is considered secured.” The Sars outbreak 2002 / 03 apply Sneak cats as the most likely source of the pathogen. Sars stands for “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome”, so Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

The Sars virus of the pandemic is now probably only found in animals, says Drosten. The situation is very different for MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), a respiratory disease caused by a related virus. There are still new transmissions of the pathogen from the camel to humans, especially in Saudi Arabia. The subsequent smaller hospital outbreaks lead to transmission chains from one person to the next. “Often three or four people get infected one after the other.” This increases the risk that the virus will adapt better to the “wrong host human” and mature into an epidemic trigger. “The transmission chains are an experimental field for the virus.” (dpa)

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