Two papers published Friday in the journal the Lancet offer some of the first rigorous analyses of patients who contracted a novel coronavirus that has broken out in China and spread to other countries. Among their discoveries: The virus does not only affect people with other, underlying health conditions, and people who are not showing symptoms can still be carrying the virus.
In one study, researchers analyzed data from the first 41 patients who were admitted to hospitals with confirmed cases of the infection in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the outbreak is believed to have originated last month. Two-thirds had been to a large seafood market that also sold wild animals for meat and is thought to be where the virus jumped from an animal source to people. The median age of the patients was 49.
The patients displayed a wide range of symptoms, many of which were similar to those caused by SARS, another coronavirus, which caused a global outbreak in 2002-2003 that started in China. All of them had pneumonia, and most had fever and cough. Some people had fatigue; rarer symptoms included headache and diarrhea. The researchers noted that patients with SARS more frequently had runny noses, sore throats, and diarrhea than those with the novel coronavirus, which is provisionally being called 2019-nCoV.
One key finding: It’s not only people with other health conditions that are getting sick, the researchers reported. Some of the fatal cases caused by the virus have been among people with underlying diseases like diabetes, liver disease, and hypertension, but the majority of the first 41 patients infected with the disease in Wuhan were healthy. The researchers noted that SARS infections similarly did not only affect people with other conditions.
About a third of the 41 patients needed intensive care, and six of them died. Some of the patients with more serious illnesses suffered from a dangerous immune system overreaction called a cytokine storm, but the researchers said they still did not have a good understanding of how the virus affects the immune system.