A recent cluster of pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China, was caused by a novel betacoronavirus, the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). We report the epidemiological, clinical, laboratory, and radiological characteristics and treatment and clinical outcomes of these patients.
All patients with suspected 2019-nCoV were admitted to a designated hospital in Wuhan. We prospectively collected and analysed data on patients with laboratory-confirmed 2019-nCoV infection by real-time RT-PCR and next-generation sequencing. Data were obtained with standardised data collection forms shared by WHO and the International Severe Acute Respiratory and Emerging Infection Consortium from electronic medical records. Researchers also directly communicated with patients or their families to ascertain epidemiological and symptom data. Outcomes were also compared between patients who had been admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) and those who had not.
By Jan 2, 2020, 41 admitted hospital patients had been identified as having laboratory-confirmed 2019-nCoV infection. Most of the infected patients were men (30 [73%] of 41); less than half had underlying diseases (13 [32%]), including diabetes (eight [20%]), hypertension (six [15%]), and cardiovascular disease (six [15%]). Median age was 49·0 years (IQR 41·0–58·0). 27 (66%) of 41 patients had been exposed to Huanan seafood market. One family cluster was found. Common symptoms at onset of illness were fever (40 [98%] of 41 patients), cough (31 [76%]), and myalgia or fatigue (18 [44%]); less common symptoms were sputum production (11 [28%] of 39), headache (three [8%] of 38), haemoptysis (two [5%] of 39), and diarrhoea (one [3%] of 38). Dyspnoea developed in 22 (55%) of 40 patients (median time from illness onset to dyspnoea 8·0 days [IQR 5·0–13·0]). 26 (63%) of 41 patients had lymphopenia. All 41 patients had pneumonia with abnormal findings on chest CT. Complications included acute respiratory distress syndrome (12 [29%]), RNAaemia (six [15%]), acute cardiac injury (five [12%]) and secondary infection (four [10%]). 13 (32%) patients were admitted to an ICU and six (15%) died. Compared with non-ICU patients, ICU patients had higher plasma levels of IL2, IL7, IL10, GSCF, IP10, MCP1, MIP1A, and TNFα.
The 2019-nCoV infection caused clusters of severe respiratory illness similar to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus and was associated with ICU admission and high mortality. Major gaps in our knowledge of the origin, epidemiology, duration of human transmission, and clinical spectrum of disease need fulfilment by future studies.
We report here a cohort of 41 patients with laboratory-confirmed 2019-nCoV infection. Patients had serious, sometimes fatal, pneumonia and were admitted to the designated hospital in Wuhan, China, by Jan 2, 2020. Clinical presentations greatly resemble SARS-CoV. Patients with severe illness developed ARDS and required ICU admission and oxygen therapy. The time between hospital admission and ARDS was as short as 2 days. At this stage, the mortality rate is high for 2019-nCoV, because six (15%) of 41 patients in this cohort died.
The number of deaths is rising quickly. As of Jan 24, 2020, 835 laboratory-confirmed 2019-nCoV infections were reported in China, with 25 fatal cases. Reports have been released of exported cases in many provinces in China, and in other countries; some health-care workers have also been infected in Wuhan. Taken together, evidence so far indicates human transmission for 2019-nCoV. We are concerned that 2019-nCoV could have acquired the ability for efficient human transmission.Airborne precautions, such as a fit-tested N95 respirator, and other personal protective equipment are strongly recommended. To prevent further spread of the disease in health-care settings that are caring for patients infected with 2019-nCoV, onset of fever and respiratory symptoms should be closely monitored among health-care workers. Testing of respiratory specimens should be done immediately once a diagnosis is suspected. Serum antibodies should be tested among health-care workers before and after their exposure to 2019-nCoV for identification of asymptomatic infections.
Similarities of clinical features between 2019-nCoV and previous betacoronavirus infections have been noted. In this cohort, most patients presented with fever, dry cough, dyspnoea, and bilateral ground-glass opacities on chest CT scans. These features of 2019-nCoV infection bear some resemblance to SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV infections.However, few patients with 2019-nCoV infection had prominent upper respiratory tract signs and symptoms (eg, rhinorrhoea, sneezing, or sore throat), indicating that the target cells might be located in the lower airway. Furthermore, 2019-nCoV patients rarely developed intestinal signs and symptoms (eg, diarrhoea), whereas about 20–25% of patients with MERS-CoV or SARS-CoV infection had diarrhoea.Faecal and urine samples should be tested to exclude a potential alternative route of transmission that is unknown at this stage.
The pathophysiology of unusually high pathogenicity for SARS-CoV or MERS-CoV has not been completely understood. Early studies have shown that increased amounts of proinflammatory cytokines in serum (eg, IL1B, IL6, IL12, IFNγ, IP10, and MCP1) were associated with pulmonary inflammation and extensive lung damage in SARS patients.MERS-CoV infection was also reported to induce increased concentrations of proinflammatory cytokines (IFNγ, TNFα, IL15, and IL17).We noted that patients infected with 2019-nCoV also had high amounts of IL1B, IFNγ, IP10, and MCP1, probably leading to activated T-helper-1 (Th1) cell responses. Moreover, patients requiring ICU admission had higher concentrations of GCSF, IP10, MCP1, MIP1A, and TNFα than did those not requiring ICU admission, suggesting that the cytokine storm was associated with disease severity. However, 2019-nCoV infection also initiated increased secretion of T-helper-2 (Th2) cytokines (eg, IL4 and IL10) that suppress inflammation, which differs from SARS-CoV infection.Further studies are necessary to characterise the Th1 and Th2 responses in 2019-nCoV infection and to elucidate the pathogenesis. Autopsy or biopsy studies would be the key to understand the disease.
In view of the high amount of cytokines induced by SARS-CoV,MERS-CoV, and 2019-nCoV infections, corticosteroids were used frequently for treatment of patients with severe illness, for possible benefit by reducing inflammatory-induced lung injury. However, current evidence in patients with SARS and MERS suggests that receiving corticosteroids did not have an effect on mortality, but rather delayed viral clearance.Therefore, corticosteroids should not be routinely given systemically, according to WHO interim guidance.Among our cohort of 41 laboratory-confirmed patients with 2019-nCoV infection, corticosteroids were given to very few non-ICU cases, and low-to-moderate dose of corticosteroids were given to less than half of severely ill patients with ARDS. Further evidence is urgently needed to assess whether systematic corticosteroid treatment is beneficial or harmful for patients infected with 2019-nCoV.
No antiviral treatment for coronavirus infection has been proven to be effective. In a historical control study,the combination of lopinavir and ritonavir among SARS-CoV patients was associated with substantial clinical benefit (fewer adverse clinical outcomes). Arabi and colleagues initiated a placebo-controlled trial of interferon beta-1b, lopinavir, and ritonavir among patients with MERS infection in Saudi Arabia.32 Preclinical evidence showed the potent efficacy of remdesivir (a broad-spectrum antiviral nucleotide prodrug) to treat MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV infections.
As 2019-nCoV is an emerging virus, an effective treatment has not been developed for disease resulting from this virus. Since the combination of lopinavir and ritonavir was already available in the designated hospital, a randomised controlled trial has been initiated quickly to assess the efficacy and safety of combined use of lopinavir and ritonavir in patients hospitalised with 2019-nCoV infection.
Our study has some limitations. First, for most of the 41 patients, the diagnosis was confirmed with lower respiratory tract specimens and no paired nasopharyngeal swabs were obtained to investigate the difference in the viral RNA detection rate between upper and lower respiratory tract specimens. Serological detection was not done to look for 2019-nCoV antibody rises in 18 patients with undetectable viral RNA. Second, with the limited number of cases, it is difficult to assess host risk factors for disease severity and mortality with multivariable-adjusted methods. This is a modest-sized case series of patients admitted to hospital; collection of standardised data for a larger cohort would help to further define the clinical presentation, natural history, and risk factors. Further studies in outpatient, primary care, or community settings are needed to get a full picture of the spectrum of clinical severity. At the same time, finding of statistical tests and p values should be interpreted with caution, and non-significant p values do not necessarily rule out difference between ICU and non-ICU patients. Third, since the causative pathogen has just been identified, kinetics of viral load and antibody titres were not available. Finally, the potential exposure bias in our study might account for why no paediatric or adolescent patients were reported in this cohort. More effort should be made to answer these questions in future studies.
Both SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV were believed to originate in bats, and these infections were transmitted directly to humans from market civets and dromedary camels, respectively.Extensive research on SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV has driven the discovery of many SARS-like and MERS-like coronaviruses in bats. In 2013, Ge and colleagues reported the whole genome sequence of a SARS-like coronavirus in bats with that ability to use human ACE2 as a receptor, thus having replication potentials in human cells.2019-nCoV still needs to be studied deeply in case it becomes a global health threat. Reliable quick pathogen tests and feasible differential diagnosis based on clinical description are crucial for clinicians in their first contact with suspected patients. Because of the pandemic potential of 2019-nCoV, careful surveillance is essential to monitor its future host adaption, viral evolution, infectivity, transmissibility, and pathogenicity.
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