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The highly infectious coronavirus is spreading rapidly through the Chinese city of Wuhan and cases have popped up in Thailand, Japan, South Korea, and now, the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed on Tuesday.

The American patient is a 30-year-old Washington resident, who recently returned from Wuhan.

In just three weeks, more than 500 people have been infected with the coronavirus and 17 have died in China, according to CNN.

The coronavirus is a respiratory illness spread through direct contact with an infected person. The virus causes a variety of symptoms, which can range from a runny nose to pneumonia, depending on severity. 

The version of the coronavirus plaguing Wuhan is a relatively new strain of the virus called 2019-nCoV, for which there is currently no treatment or vaccine. The National Institutes of Health reported Tuesday, that the development of a vaccine for the virus is in its preliminary stages. The new strain is believed to have originated from a seafood market. 

While the incubation period of the disease is still unknown, the CDC suggests that people who may have been exposed to the virus monitor themselves for two weeks and watch for the following symptoms: fever, shortness of breath, body aches, trouble breathing, and diarrhea.

With the Lunar New Year fast-approaching and millions of people in China preparing to travel, Beijing officials have announced a quarantine in Wuhan starting on Friday. This new measure will allow hospitals to quarantine anyone suspected of having the virus, to contain the outbreak as much as possible.

"Basically, do not go to Wuhan. And those in Wuhan, please do not leave the city," Li Bin, deputy director of China's National Health Commission, told a news conference on Wednesday.

To make matters worse, one scientist believes that the virus could be mutating. 

"We are still in the process of learning more about this disease," Gao Fu, the head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control, said at the news conference, noting that mutations can cause symptoms to worsen and make the virus spread faster.

While the coronavirus is usually spread from animals to people, this new strain in Wuhan is transmitted through human contact. At least 15 health care workers have already contracted the virus after being in contact with patients.

"Evidence has shown that the disease has been transmitted through the respiratory tract and there is the possibility of viral mutation," Li said.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) emergency committee is currently meeting in Geneva, Switzerland to determine whether or not the coronavirus outbreak is a global public health crisis.


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