Health officials in China grappling to manage the outbreak of a new coronavirus now fear the disease could be a so-called “super-spreader.”
As of Monday, the central city of Wuhan — where the outbreak first emerged — reported a total of 198 infected patients. Some 15 medical staff in the city have been infected, while at least six people have died from the pneumonia-like illness which has also spread to Thailand, South Korea, Japan and other areas in China, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Some 218 additional cases have been confirmed in mainland China, while 14 people are infected in Guangdong. At least five are sickened in Beijing, and one person is infected in Shanghai, according to the South China Morning Post.
Officials this week also confirmed that the new coronavirus, which is linked to a seafood and animal market in Wuhan, is transmissible between humans. This ultimately sparked fears that a person infected with the virus and experiencing the most severe stage of infection could be a super-spreader — someone who transmits the virus to a considerable more amount of people than the average infected person, the South China Morning Post reported.
Coronavirus can cause a range of illnesses, from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) — the latter of which also began in China and infected some 8,000 people during a 2002-2003 outbreak. At least 770 died after it spread to other cities and countries across the world. At the time, international travel in combination with a few super-spreaders facilitated the massive outbreak, according to one report.
In response to the outbreak, the World Health Organization (WHO) is holding an emergency meeting on Wednesday to determine whether or not it should be considered an international public health emergency, according to the South China Morning Post. Meanwhile, the CDC and the 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.
Australia is taking similar measures, with officials there announcing Tuesday that the country will also begin screening passengers who are arriving from Wuhan, according to The New York Times. Japan and South Korea also announced increased airport screenings.
But even with screening measures, “You cannot absolutely prevent entry into the country of a disease like this,” Brendan Murphy, the chief medical officer for the Australian government, said, according to the newspaper. Some people who are infected may not show symptoms, he explained.
Fox News’ Alexandria Hein and The Associated Press contributed to this report.