Infectious disease specialists and scientists say the new coronavirus that’s shuttering companies across mainland China may be more contagious than current data shows.
Emerging in Wuhan, China, about a month ago, the virus has spread from about 300 people as of Jan. 21 to close to 21,000 and killed more than 420 — with the number of new cases growing by the thousands every day.
“The rapid acceleration of cases is of concern,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization’s emergencies program, said at a news conference last week before the agency declared a global health emergency.
Chinese scientists worry the respiratory illness, which world health officials say likely came from a fish market, has mutated to adapt to its new human hosts far more quickly than SARS. Data on the virus is changing by the day, and some infectious disease specialists say it will take weeks before they can see just how contagious it is. What they’re seeing so far is concerning and leading U.S. and international scientists to believe the virus is more contagious than the current data shows, according to interviews with epidemiologists, scientists and infectious disease specialists.
The disease is spreading quickly. China’s health minister, Ma Xiaowei, told reporters last month that there is evidence it’s already mutated into a stronger variation that is able to spread more easily among humans. World health officials know the respiratory disease is capable of spreading through human-to-human contact, droplets carried through sneezing and coughing, and germs left on inanimate objects. The illness is cable of spreading before symptoms show, and about 20% of patients become severely ill, leading to pneumonia and respiratory failure, health officials say.