• Kyodo, Staff Report


Japan has confirmed its first case of pneumonia caused by a new coronavirus from China, the health ministry said Thursday.

A Chinese national in his 30s who lives in Kanagawa Prefecture tested positive for the virus, the ministry said. He returned from Wuhan on Jan. 6 and was hospitalized on Jan. 10, but has already recovered and was discharged from the hospital on Wednesday.

A ministry official said there are no other confirmed cases in Japan.

The pneumonia-like virus has infected dozens of people in Wuhan, with preliminary evidence suggesting the outbreak was associated with exposure at a seafood market.

The man treated in Japan had not visited the Wuhan seafood market, according to the health ministry. It is possible that he came in close contact with a person infected with the virus while in the city, the ministry said.

Japanese authorities said he possibly caught the disease from a carrier in the Chinese city, and there are currently no suspected cases of secondary infection in Japan, including among his family members who live with him or doctors who have treated him.

“The chances are slim that the infection will spread (in Japan),” a health ministry official said.

Coronaviruses usually cause common-cold symptoms, infecting the nose, sinuses or upper throat, and are spread through sneezing, coughing or direct contact.

However, some types lead to more serious, sometimes deadly respiratory diseases, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome or Middle East respiratory syndrome.

SARS killed 349 people in mainland China and 299 in Hong Kong in 2002 and 2003.

The man developed a fever on Jan. 3 while in Wuhan. He is now at home recuperating, the ministry said. His fever is gone but he has a slight cough.

The man passed the quarantine test at the airport upon his return because he had taken some medicine.

While the Japanese government declined to reveal which airport the man arrived at, transport minister Kazuyoshi Akaba said his ministry will “do everything it can” to detect possible patients at airports and seaports.

His infection was confirmed Wednesday through a laboratory test by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, leading the government to set up an information-gathering task force at the crisis management center under the Prime Minister’s Office that day.

The health ministry issued a message to the public emphasizing hand-washing and other preventive measures similar to those taken against the common cold or influenza.

It also called on those who have visited Wuhan and have experienced fever and coughing to wear masks and visit medical institutions promptly. It advised them to report that they have been to Wuhan when seeing a doctor.

The pneumonia caused by the virus, which the World Health Organization recognized Tuesday as a novel coronavirus, has infected 41 people in Wuhan, with preliminary evidence suggesting the outbreak was associated with exposure at a seafood market, as many of them worked or were customers there.

The infected resident in Japan has told health authorities that he did not visit the seafood market, making it likely that he had close contact with a carrier elsewhere.

The Chinese city’s public health authorities have said they are investigating a case of an outbreak within one family over the possibility that the virus could be transmitted human to human.

A Japanese health ministry official said the virus might be transmitted among humans if a person spends a long time in proximity to a carrier.

Satoshi Kutsuna, an expert at the Disease Control and Prevention Center under the National Center for Global Health and Medicine, said in a web article that people don’t need to be excessively worried about the virus.

Although the infection case between the couple suggests the possibility of human-to-human transmission, examinations on nearly 1,000 people who came in contact with the infected patients have shown they were not infected.

This indicates that “it’s unlikely that it will spread widely around the globe,” Kutsuna wrote.

Still, some Japanese travelers to China voiced concerns.

“I thought the virus would come to Japan but it was sooner than I expected,” said Yoshihiro Miki, a 40-year-old from Saitama Prefecture, who was at Narita Airport and headed to Shanghai for several days.

“A person died, so I’m worried. I’ll stay away from crowded places,”said a 30-year-old man from Tokyo’s Kita Ward who was headed to a destination near Wuhan.

One person among the 41 infected has died but WHO said on its website Sunday that the patient had “other underlying health conditions.”

Thailand’s Public Health Ministry reported Monday that a 61-year-old Chinese tourist from Wuhan was confirmed to have the viral pneumonia.

SARS was identified in 2003, spreading worldwide and killing 774 people. It may have originated in bats.

MERS, which is thought to have originated from camels, was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

Those syndromes were ruled out as the cause of the outbreak in Wuhan.

The Japanese health ministry has also said that those who have visited Wuhan should wear masks and get a medical checkup as soon as possible if they find themselves with a fever or cough. They should also inform medical institutions that they have returned from the city.

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