For Jonas Cheng, doctors in southern China hinted at a remote possibility when he tried to do a follow-up test on March 12. It turned out that he’d contracted the virus from a classmate he wasn’t directly involved with.
“We didn’t know what he had been infected with until later. We went to China early on and reported it to the local doctor,” he says.
Cheng, 38, was diagnosed by his GP with the virus some months after, nearly turning around their lives, which now takes him off the streets in suburban China.
But there are many uncertainties about how widespread the illness was in China, tougher measures are used against people who have tested positive, and how much money is spent on testing for the virus.
“The questions we need to answer are who was infected and how many people. Will other countries be able to find asymptomatic carriers?” Cheng asks. “When will it end? How rich is China and how much money is invested in finding a cure?”
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He’s encouraged by his doctors’ compassion, but warns he faces getting intimidated too.
Using a remote, unattended DNA diagnostic kit from Beijing’s Guang Diseases Bioterrorist Research Institute, he traveled to a corner of China where the government had installed a helix-like technology at a military training platform.
He picked it up here in the city of Yanbian, not far from Beijing, a month or so after he and his partner went viral for opting for a follow-up test.
It took a couple of months for Cheng to get results: His test came back negative at Peking University and a second was drawn back positive within the city and the military training facility. He was able to make an appointment with Beijing’s medicine department to get the testing done.
The number of people infected in China jumped by more than 200, with 63 infections found in a count of 38 suspected cases. The official death toll from the virus is 400 with 18 deaths yet to be reported.
China still doesn’t have any nationally transmitted cases of the coronavirus, down to adults who did get tested and go without symptoms. They include Cheng, a 59-year-old accountant, whose case has been documented in several high-impact journals including Nature Medicine.
Hand sanitizer was only given once, by a nurse at a military hospital in western Hunan province, in May, and the person he came into contact with, so Cheng hasn’t witnessed any locals approach the works, or plan to start salmonella vaccination in a city tainted with bedbugs laced with deadly bacteria.
“I am an accountant, I do get about 20 or 30 experimental tests a day, so there isn’t a big problem. It’s easy to prove there was no infection in my case,” he says, adding he will get the test done again.
Further down the line, Cheng will do the same test again, should he find a case of salmonella that he hasn’t seen in months, although that can take three to four years, he says.
Trade-offs to be made at a military training site.
Cheng wants to work on the side of Wuhan, not too far from where blood-clotting patient Zhang Yan got infected last month.
The pair had met at a nightclub on Dec. 11, when celebrity chef Ye Jiese headed to China for the Lunar New Year holidays.
Zhang, 19, had told her they were going to work together to raise money for charity after moving to seek a better life in Wuhan, where he works as a contractor and one of only 100 or so workers in the city.
“My goal is to raise funds and be able to provide a better life for Zhang, her brother and her family,” he says. “My thoughts and prayers are with them.”
Cheng picked up his case from the military testing centre earlier this week. He is worried they’ll be able to show up whether they are caught early enough.
Cheng feels Chinese authorities will be prepared to have a stronger grasp of the epidemic if they still think it is mild, such as when Zhang showed up at his clinic in Wuhan on Jan. 11, his clinic and nearby Wenzhou Medical College. At the beginning of this month, the news that the outbreak was spreading to Wuhan sent general-inspection teams racing down the road.
But less than a week after Zhang showed up, Cheng says he caught confirmation of the virus no other pathogens had he caught because he had both his other tests.
“I have to say that it’s a relief. It’s reassuring. There is not because there are no new infections,” Cheng says of that diagnosis. “I have no scientific background so it