SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) -- What is known about the Wuhan coronavirus is alarming enough but what is unknown also raises serious concerns.
"It is a new virus,” said Dr. Dean Blumberg, an infectious disease expert at UC Davis Children's Hospital. “It has not previously been described as infecting humans."
Dr. Blumberg said he has been keeping a close eye on the news about the rapidly spreading virus that was identified just last year, originating at the Wuhan fish market in China.
"And at that time, the Chinese public health authorities realized that there was a problem and they actually closed down the fish market. But then there have been cases that have been circulating since then,” Blumberg said. "And now we're discovering that it's transmissible not just from animals to human, which was originally thought through this market, which not only had fish but other live animals. But we're finding that it's person to person transmitted also."
Blumberg explained coronaviruses themselves are common. Symptoms are usually similar to those experienced with a cold.
But every now and then, a more sinister strain emerges, like the SARS coronavirus outbreak of the early 2000s.
"One out of every 10 people who got SARS ended up dying from that,” Blumberg said. “Now, this virus comes along and most people who get it have fever, cough, sneezing for a few days. But some people actually die from it."
Because the Wuhan coronavirus is a new disease, nobody has immunity against catching it. It takes several years to develop vaccines and anti-viral medications to fight new diseases.
"The people who have been reported to have increased risk of dying are the elderly, those over 65, anybody that has a compromised immune system, a weakened immune system," Blumberg told FOX40.
While health authorities around the world are working to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, comfort can also be found in considering what eventually happened to SARS.
"It was here, it seemed to be spreading like wildfire and then it just stopped. So, that's still a bit of a mystery," Blumberg explained. "So, we really need some good studies, some more data to really know how concerned we need to be about this."
The virus can live in the air and on surfaces. Doctors say people should practice the same preventative measures taken against the cold and flu, like handwashing and coughing or sneezing into a sleeve.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information for travelers who are going to or coming back from China.