Health

Patient in Japan infected with new coronavirus from China

Japan confirms first infection from new coronavirus in a man returning from Wuhan, China.

German scientists develop test to diagnose so-called novel coronavirus 'in a very short period of time.'

Pedestrians wear protective masks as they walk through a shopping district in Tokyo on Thursday as the country's government said a man treated for pneumonia after returning from China has tested positive for the new coronavirus. (Eugene Hoshiko/Associated Press)

Japan's government says a man treated for pneumonia after returning from China has tested positive for the new coronavirus identified as a possible cause of an outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

The man became sick while in Wuhan earlier this month, and tests this week found the same virus as detected in Wuhan.

Officials in Wuhan said last weekend that 41 people had pneumonia caused by the new virus and a 61-year-old man had died in China's first known death from the virus. The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission announced a second death, a 69-year-old man, on Thursday. He became ill on Dec. 31, 2019.

The outbreak comes just ahead of the lunar new year when many Chinese travel. Officials say the virus is not considered highly contagious.

Given that there's a small number of cases, it is hard to be definitive, cautioned Dr. Allison McGeer, a clinician scientist in infectious diseases at Sinai Health in Toronto. 

"It looks like this virus is less severe than MERS and SARS, which is a good thing," McGeer said of other coronavirus infections, namely Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. "It's also a situation of the virus itself may be changing, so it's really too early to be confident about what the disease looks like."

Dr. Isaac Bogoch is tracking and predicting the spread of the new coronavirus based on factors such as travel volumes from Wuhan, China. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

Dr. Issac Bogoch is an infectious disease physician at Toronto Western Hospital who is tracking and predicting the spread of the new coronavirus based on factors such as travel volumes from Wuhan. 

"It's extremely important that we be wary of infections acquired from distant lands that might land on our doorstep," Bogoch said. "We should have systems in place that will facilitate the rapid identification and management of imported infections."

To that end, German researchers said Thursday they have developed the first diagnostic test for a new virus that has emerged in central China.

The virus was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan last year and cases have since also been reported in Thailand.

Faster diagnostic test created

Dr. Christian Drosten, the director of the Institute for Virology at Berlin's Charite hospital, said the test developed by his team will allow labs to reliably diagnose the so-called novel coronavirus "in a very short period of time."

The test protocol is being made available through the World Health Organization, and laboratories can order a molecule from the German team to compare patient samples with a positive control, he said.

"We have just started receiving orders and are now starting to post the molecule," Drosten told The Associated Press.

So far, doctors have only been able to perform a general virus test and then had to sequence and interpret the genome, said Drosten. Large, well-equipped public laboratories are able to do this but smaller labs would struggle to do so, he added.

"We're more concerned about labs in countries where it's not that easy to transport samples or staff aren't trained that thoroughly, or if there is a large number of patients who have to be tested," said Drosten, citing the epidemic of SARS, which killed hundreds in 2002 and 2003.

Drosten, who was one of the co-discoverers of SARS, said the two viruses are so closely related that laboratories which have control samples for SARS in stock can use it to diagnose the new virus, cutting the time required to create a functioning test.

Routine precautions in place in Canada

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said the Chinese gene sequencing will allow Canadian scientists to develop diagnostic tests for the novel coronavirus.

The agency has issued a Travel Health Notice for individuals travelling to and returning from China, including recommendations for travellers to Wuhan, such as avoid farms, live animal markets, and areas where animals may be slaughtered. 

Canadians should always tell their health-care providers about their travel if they become ill after returning. 

"The possibility of cases being identified in other countries, including Canada, would not be unexpected given global travel trends," a PHAC spokesperson said in an emailed response to questions.

Surveillance systems are on alert and precautions such as routine infection and prevention control at hospitals as well as routine traveller screening at Canadian ports of entry are in place, the agency added.

 

With files from CBC's Christine Birak and Associated Press

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