From the Journals

Echoes of SARS mark 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak



The current outbreak of severe respiratory infections caused by the 2019 novel coronarvirus (2019-nCoV) has a clinical presentation resembling the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) outbreak that began in 2002, Chinese investigators caution.

Symptoms of the 2019 novel coronavirus

By Jan. 2, 2020, 41 patients with confirmed 2019-nCoV had been admitted to a designated hospital in the city of Wuhan, Hubei Province, in central China. Thirteen required ICU admission and six died, reported Chaolin Huang, MD, from Jin Yin-tan Hospital in Wuhan, and colleagues.

“2019-nCoV still needs to be studied deeply in case it becomes a global health threat. Reliable quick pathogen tests and feasible differential diagnosis based on clinical description are crucial for clinicians in their first contact with suspected patients. Because of the pandemic potential of 2019-nCoV, careful surveillance is essential to monitor its future host adaption, viral evolution, infectivity, transmissibility, and pathogenicity,” they wrote in a review published online by The Lancet.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of Jan. 28, 2020, the total number of 2019-nCoV cases reported in the United States stood at five, but further cases of the infection – which Chinese health officials have confirmed can be transmitted person-to-person – are expected.

Dr. Huang and colleagues note that although most human coronavirus infections are mild, SARS-CoV and the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) were responsible for more than 10,000 infections, with mortality rates ranging from 10% with SARS to 37% with MERS. To date, 2019-nCoV has “caused clusters of fatal pneumonia greatly resembling SARS-CoV,” they write.

The authors studied the epidemiological, clinical, laboratory, and radiological characteristics as well as treatments and clinical outcomes of 41 patients admitted or transferred to the Jin Yin-tan Hospital with laboratory-confirmed 2019-nCoV infections.

The median patient age was 49 years. Thirty of the 41 patients (73%) were male. Comorbid conditions included diabetes in 13 of the 41 patients (32%), hypertension in 6 (15%), and cardiovascular disease in 6.

In all 27 of the 41 patients had been exposed to the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan, the suspected epicenter of the outbreak that was shut down by health authorities on Jan. 1 of this year.

The most common symptoms at the onset of the illness were fever in all but one of the 41 patients, cough in 31, and myalgia or fatigue in 18. Other, less frequent symptoms included sputum production in 11, headache in three, hemoptysis in two, and diarrhea in one.

“In this cohort, most patients presented with fever, dry cough, dyspnoea, and bilateral ground-glass opacities on chest CT scans. These features of 2019-nCoV infection bear some resemblance to SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV infections. However, few patients with 2019-nCoV infection had prominent upper respiratory tract signs and symptoms (e.g., rhinorrhoea, sneezing, or sore throat), indicating that the target cells might be located in the lower airway. Furthermore, 2019-nCoV patients rarely developed intestinal signs and symptoms (e.g., diarrhoea), whereas about 20%-25% of patients with MERS-CoV or SARS-CoV infection had diarrhoea.”

In all, 22 patients developed dyspnea, with a median time from illness onset to dyspnea of 8 days. The median time from illness onset to admission was 7 days, median time to shortness of breath was 8 days, median time to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) was 9 days, and median time to both mechanical ventilation and ICU admission was 10.5 days.

All of the patients developed pneumonia with abnormal findings on chest CT scan. In addition, 12 patients developed ARDS, six had RNAaemia, five developed acute cardiac injury, and four developed a secondary infection. As noted before, 13 of the 14 patients were admitted to an ICU, and six died. RNAaemia is a positive result for real-time polymerase chain reaction in plasma samples. Patients admitted to the ICU had higher initial concentrations of multiple inflammatory cytokines than patients who did not need ICU care, “suggesting that the cytokine storm was associated with disease severity.”

All of the patients received empirical antibiotics, 38 were treated with oseltamivir (Tamiflu), and 9 received systemic corticosteroids.

The investigators have initiated a randomized controlled trial of the antiviral agents lopinavir and ritonavir for patients hospitalized with 2019-nCoV infection.

The study was funded by the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, National Natural Science Foundation of China, and Beijing Municipal Science and Technology Commission. All authors declared having no competing interests.

SOURCE: Huang C et al. Lancet. 2020 Jan 24. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30183-5.

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