Ill husband and wife add to Wuhan riddle

Top News | Jane Cheung 16 Jan 2020

Wuhan health authorities said they cannot rule out limited human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus after a husband and wife fell ill, one after the other, it emerged yesterday.

The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said among the 41 confirmed patients with pneumonia caused by the virus, a woman fell ill five days after her husband - who works at the Huanan seafood wholesale market - got sick.

The market, shut down since January 1, has been determined as the outbreak source. The wife claimed she had not been to the market, the commission said.

It remained unclear whether she contracted the virus through her husband or objects that her husband brought home from the market.

"The preliminary investigation has not found any clear evidence of human-to-human transmission," the commission said.

"The possibility of limited spreading between humans cannot be ruled out but the risk of continuous transmission among humans is rather low."

The couple comprised one of the two family clusters in the outbreak, which has killed one man.

The other cluster comprised a son, his father and his cousin, who all worked at the market, said Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of the Centre for Health Protection.

"They live together and operate the same seafood stall in the market," she said.

"They were reported sick around the same time. They are likely to have been infected by the same virus source."

Chuang, together with undersecretary for food and health Chui Tak-yi and the Hospital Authority's chief infection control officer, Raymond Lai Wai-man, returned to Hong Kong on Tuesday after a two-day visit to Wuhan, capital of Hubei, to understand the latest developments of the viral infection.

Chuang said around 70 percent of the 41 patients are workers or frequent visitors of the market.

"The others said they have not been to the wet market while some were too ill to answer investigators' questions," she said.

But Chuang said none of the more than 700 people who had close contact with the 41 patients - including more than 400 health-care workers who treated them - were found sick.

This shows the virus is not likely to spread between humans and does not transmit among humans effectively.

Chuang said mainland authorities have confirmed game animals, including guinea pigs, snakes, badgers and hedgehogs, were sold at the market.

Since the market was closed for disinfection, mainland authorities have collected environmental samples.

This came as five more people - two boys, aged two and 13, and three women, aged 34 to 68 - were hospitalized in Hong Kong after suffering from fever or symptoms of respiratory infection after returning from Wuhan in the past two weeks.

While in Wuhan, the SAR delegation went to Jinyintan Hospital, where the patients are being treated.

Lai said all 41 suffered from mild to moderate pneumonia, accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, shortness of breath and fatigue.

In addition to a 61-year-old man who died last week of the disease, six patients, aged 40 to 78, were critically ill and two of them had to be connected to life support, he said.

Chinese University respiratory expert David Hui Shu-cheong said people who had not been to the Huanan market but fell sick from the virus suggested the existence of another source.

jane.cheung@singtaonewscorp.com

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