At least 17 people have died from a new coronavirus in China following an outbreak in the central city of Wuhan, and more than 500 cases have been reported globally.
Most cases are in China, where the infection has spread faster in recent days.
Fears are mounting about its spread as hundreds of millions travel for Lunar New Year celebrations, which start Friday.
Here is what you need to know:
According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
These viruses are transmitted between animals and people. SARS, for instance, was believed to have been transmitted from civet cats to humans while MERS travelled from a type of camel to humans.
Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans.
A novel coronavirus, identified by Chinese authorities on January 7 and named as 2019-nCov, is a new strain that had not been previously identified in humans.
Little is known about the new coronavirus strain, although human-to-human transmission has been confirmed.
According to the WHO, signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.
In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
Some experts say it may not be as deadly as some other coronavirus such as SARS, which killed nearly 800 people worldwide during a 2002/03 outbreak that also originated from China.
Mostly in China.
Chinese officials said at least 17 people have died, all in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital. That is also where most reported cases are – at least 444.
Beyond China, the United States reported one case, Thailand has reported four cases and South Korea one. Japan has also confirmed one case.
All of those cases involved people who had either come from or been in Wuhan recently.
There is no vaccine for the new virus.
On Thursday, Chinese authorities will suspend flights and trains out of Wuhan, and say residents should not leave without a special reason, state media said.
The move, effective at 10:00am (0200 GMT), is meant to “resolutely contain the momentum of the epidemic spreading” and protect lives, the central city’s special command centre against the virus said, according to state broadcaster CCTV.
Chinese authorities have stepped up monitoring and disinfection efforts ahead of the Lunar New Year break that formally starts on January 24, when many of the country’s 1.4 billion people will travel domestically and overseas.
They have also advised people to not travel to Wuhan and also asked Wuhan residents to remain in the city.
Airport authorities in the US as well as many Asian countries, including Japan, Thailand, Singapore and South Korea, stepped up screening of passengers from Wuhan.
In Europe, Britain and Italy have said they will introduce enhanced monitoring of flights from Wuhan, while Romania and Russia are also strengthening checks.
Chinese health authorities are still trying to determine the origin of the virus, which they say came from a market in Wuhan where wildlife was traded illegally. WHO also says an animal source appears most likely to be the primary source of the outbreak.
There is evidence of respiratory transmission of the virus from patient to patient, and Chinese authorities have also said that 15 medical staff in the country have been infected, which they claim indicates loopholes in treatment methods.
Experts worry in particular when health workers are sickened in outbreaks by new viruses, because it can suggest the disease is becoming more transmissible and because spread in hospitals can often amplify the epidemic.
On Thursday, the WHO is expected to announce its decision on whether to declare a global public health emergency.
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