Novel coronavirus, known as 2019-nCoV in the scientific community, has rapidly spread across the world this month after incubating in Wuhan, China. The virus is one of several to have emerged from the country throughout history, including outbreaks of flu, other coronaviruses and even the black death.
Why do certain viruses come from China?
China is no stranger to disease outbreaks, as the country has hosted several deadly pathogens in the past.
Aside from 2019-nCoV, some of the most notable diseases to have bred within the country’s borders include bird flu and SARS-CoV.
Bird flu circulated in the country somewhat recently, with outbreaks in 2013.
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Many of the recent outbreaks in China first started out in animals, as experts theorise 2019-nCoV originated in animal products sold at a market in Wuhan.
The Chinese people live in close contact with animals, as many people breed birds such as chicken and ducks for meat.
Most respiratory viruses such as influenza come from birds first, making China one of the most susceptible countries.
Asian farmers also traditionally live with their livestock, creating prolonged exposure to potential virus cases.
Once viruses have established a foothold in China, the tightly-packed nature of the country’s population easily spreads it on.
China is home to nearly 1.4 billion people, most of whom live very close to one another.
The country has an estimated population density of 397 people per square mile, which helps facilitate the spread of emerging diseases.
China shares borders with several other countries in Asia and is both a popular destination for tourists and businesses, establishing an international link which has the potential to spread viruses around the planet.
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Once viruses emerge in China they have a tendency to stick around, unlike in other countries where they naturally ebb and flow during different seasons.
In southern China, influenza is a year-round occurrence, with highs in summer and lows in winter.
Other countries experience similar patterns, but flu season lands between October and March.
Speaking to NBC as bird flu emerged in 2004, John Oxford, a flu expert from Queen Mary School of Medicine in London, said flu is not as seasonal in China.
He said: “Respiratory viruses, like orchids, do seem to like the Asian climate because they have influenza viruses nearly all year round.
“It’s not so seasonal as it is in the rest of the world.”
To keep the virus from spreading further afield, British Airways has now cancelled all of its flights to mainland China.
The flight operators announced Britons returning to the UK would also be put under quarantine.
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