A new coronavirus sickening dozens in China is transmissible between humans, officials confirmed, sparking fears that the pneumonia-like illness which has been tied to at least three deaths may spread more quickly than previously believed.
Chinese government officials said two people in the country’s southern province had caught the virus from family members, and several medical workers who had treated patients tested positive for the illness. The majority of patients have reported fever, cough and shortness of breath.
“The recent outbreak of novel coronavirus pneumonia in Wuhan and other places must be taken seriously,” President Xi Jiping said, according to The Associated Press. “Party committees, governments and relevant departments at all levels should put people’s lives and health first.”
For weeks officials had reported the number of cases to be at least 41, with no new cases believed to have been contracted since early January. However, in their most recent update authorities said the number had risen to over 200. The early cases had been tied to a seafood market in Wuhan, but since then authorities in other regions have confirmed illnesses in residents.
The outbreak has spurred other countries to warn the millions of travelers boarding planes and trains for the Lunar New Year holidays. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), announced “enhanced health screenings” for airline passengers arriving from or traveling through the Wuhan province. San Francisco International Airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport all began the initiative on Jan. 17.
South Korea, Japan and Thailand have all reported cases of the virus. Officials are still scrambling to determine its origin. The virus has sparked fears of a SARS re-emergence, but officials have been quick to shut down those theories.
Chinese authorities have been in contact with the World Health Organization (WHO), which is also monitoring the situation. Officials across several health agencies urge anyone who has recently visited the Wuhan region to seek medical attention once suspected symptoms develop.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.