China Health Authorities Report First Death From Mysterious Viral Pneumonia Outbreak
Health authorities in China
on Saturday officially announced that a 61-year-old man had become the first person to die from viral pneumonia
believed caused by a new virus from the same family as SARS
, which claimed hundreds of lives more than a decade ago.
Fifty-nine people with pneumonia
-like symptoms have so far been diagnosed with the new virus
in the central Chinese city of Wuhan,
with one of the victims dying on Thursday, Wuhan
's health commission told Thailand Medical
Another seven remained in critical condition, two were discharged from treatment, and the rest were stable, it added. More than a few hundred who could have come into contact with those infected have been quarantined.
The outbreak has caused alarm due to the spectre of SARS
, or Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which in 2002-2003 killed 349 people in mainland China
and another 299 in Hong Kong, whose economy was hit hard by the epidemic's devastating impact on tourism.
Medical scientists investigating the outbreak said last week they believe the pathogen to be a previously unknown type of coronavirus
, a broad family ranging from the common cold to more serious illnesses like SARS
Healthcare professionals in Hong Kong's Department of Health said Saturday that genetic sequencing of the virus found in one of the Wuhan
patients and published online by a Chinese expert indicated it was 80 percent similar to SARS
found in bats.
Talking at a news conference in Hong Kong, they said it was too early to conclude definitively that it was a SARS
strain, adding that the city needed to stay vigilant.
Dr Wong Ka-hing, director of the department's Health Protection Centre told Thailand Medical News
, "We will remain alert as we believe the epidemic will continue to develop."
Authorities in Hong Kong have taken a range of precautions including stepping up the disinfection of trains and planes, and checks of passengers.
The health commission in Wuhan
said the man who died had purchased goods from a seafood market in the city identified by authorities as the centre of the outbreak. It was closed on January 1.
The male patient, who also had underlying health issues including chronic liver disease, died in hospital on Thursday of "respiratory failure and severe pneumonia
", the commission said.
To date, no new cases have been detected since January 3 nor any "clear evidence of human-to-human transmission", the commission said.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said Thursday it was not recommending any specific measures for travellers or restrictions on trade with China
, and expressed confidence in the abi
lity of Chinese authorities to contain the virus
has entered its annual Lunar New Year holiday travel rush, raising the spectre of the mass movement of people serving as a vector for the pathogen. In the world's largest annual human migration, hundreds of millions will pack together on trains, buses and planes for the festival in late January.
To date, China
has not announced any travel restrictions.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong authorities have said 48 people have been hospitalised in recent days after returning from Wuhan
and displaying flu-like illnesses, but none have yet been confirmed to have contracted the new coronavirus
Hong Kong city residents worried about the outbreak have rushed to buy face masks from local pharmacies, with many selling out earlier this week, while officials in Taiwan have urged the island's health and welfare ministry to strengthen quarantine controls.