A deadly coronavirus, called the Wuhan virus based on the Chinese city it emanated from, has spread to the United States with a man in his 30s being declared patient zero in Washington state.
The patient came back to the U.S. from Wuhan, China on Jan. 15. He was displaying no symptoms at the time, according to the local and federal officials who made the public announcement, but became sick the days after he initially returned.
Dr. Scott Lindquist, who works as Washington’s state epidemiologist for communicable diseases, said the patient is in stable condition but is still being isolated in a hospital “out of an abundance of precaution and monitoring.” Passengers at several airports are going to be screened for the virus moving forward in an attempt to prevent its spread. Six people have already been reported dead worldwide from the coronavirus that can cause pneumonia.
This comes years after it was announced that a controversial facility would be opened in Wuhan where Chinese scientists would study the world’s most dangerous pathogens:
A laboratory in Wuhan is on the cusp of being cleared to work with the world’s most dangerous pathogens. The move is part of a plan to build between five and seven biosafety level-4 (BSL-4) labs across the Chinese mainland by 2025, and has generated much excitement, as well as some concerns.
Some scientists outside China worry about pathogens escaping, and the addition of a biological dimension to geopolitical tensions between China and other nations. But Chinese microbiologists are celebrating their entrance to the elite cadre empowered to wrestle with the world’s greatest biological threats.
“It will offer more opportunities for Chinese researchers, and our contribution on the BSL‑4-level pathogens will benefit the world,” says George Gao, director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Key Laboratory of Pathogenic Microbiology and Immunology in Beijing. There are already two BSL-4 labs in Taiwan, but the National Bio-safety Laboratory, Wuhan, would be the first on the Chinese mainland…
Many staff from the Wuhan lab have been training at a BSL-4 lab in Lyon, which some scientists find reassuring. And the facility has already carried out a test-run using a low-risk virus.
But worries surround the Chinese lab, too. The SARS virus has escaped from high-level containment facilities in Beijing multiple times, notes Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey. Tim Trevan, founder of CHROME Biosafety and Biosecurity Consulting in Damascus, Maryland, says that an open culture is important to keeping BSL-4 labs safe, and he questions how easy this will be in China, where society emphasizes hierarchy. “Diversity of viewpoint, flat structures where everyone feels free to speak up and openness of information are important,” he says.
Yuan says that he has worked to address this issue with staff. “We tell them the most important thing is that they report what they have or haven’t done,” he says. And the lab’s international collaborations will increase openness. “Transparency is the basis of the lab,” he adds.