Canada confirmed its first case of the new coronavirus Monday, as Ontario health officials said the man’s wife also tested positive for the respiratory illness, believed to have emerged from Wuhan, China.
The illness has killed at least 82 people and infected more than 2,800 in the country.
The virus — officially called 2019-nCoV — appeared in December 2019 in China and is believed to have originated at a seafood and wild game market in Wuhan.
Most human coronaviruses, such as the common cold, typically cause mild-to-moderate illness, but some can cause severe disease and even death.
Researchers are still working to determine exactly how deadly the new coronavirus, for which reports suggest a fatality rate of 3-4 per cent, really is. However, they’ve found some similarities between it and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
Both viruses are believed to have originated from animals, but with the ability to jump from person to person, and originated in the same manner.
In 2002, SARS infected more than 8,000 people and killed nearly 800 around the world, including 44 in Canadians, before it was mostly contained in 2003.
Steven Hoffman, director of the Global Strategy Lab and a global health professor at York University, said it’s still too early to tell how severe the disease or how contagious it is.
“We would anticipate a much lower severity in the Canadian context than in many other countries around the world that don’t have kind of public health capacity,” Hoffman said.
“Speculation at this point is not helpful.”
Hoffman said that while the virus does look to be a serious public health threat, it’s not as deadly as another coronavirus: Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which first emerged in Saudi Arabia in 2012.
MERS sickened thousands in more than 26 countries and roughly 35 per cent of people infected with MERS died, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The virus is believed to have emerged from camels, but acquired the ability to be transmitted from human to human. Symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath, often leading to pneumonia.
According to available information, 2019-nCoV is not nearly as infectious as the measles virus, which can live for up to two hours in the air after an infected person coughs or sneezes.
It also doesn’t appear to be as deadly as Ebola, which is largely passed through direct contact with an infected person’s blood or bodily fluids.
Hoffman said that Canada’s public health system learned a lot from SARS and is much better prepared to handle a potential pandemic, with beefed up airport screenings, better communication between health agencies and improved hospital isolation units.
“The precautions that people should be taking for the coronavirus are the same for flu season: washing hands, coughing into elbows and staying home if they are sick.”
— With a file from Reuters