A mysterious pneumonia outbreak that has struck dozens of people and put China on edge is from the same family of viruses as the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), according to Chinese scientists.
They’ve found a new coronavirus in 15 of 57 patients with the illness in the central city of Wuhan, Hubei province saying it has been preliminarily identified as the pathogen for the outbreak, state broadcaster CCTV reported on Thursday.
The report said the whole genome sequence of the virus has been obtained, and a sample isolated from one of the patients showed “typical coronavirus appearance” under an electron microscope.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to SARS, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Symptoms can range from fever and coughing to kidney failure, and in some cases lead to death. Some coronaviruses transmit easily from person to person, while others do not.
SARS infected more than 8,000 people and killed 774 in a pandemic that ripped through Asia and spread to 37 countries in 2002 and 2003. A coronavirus is also the culprit for deadly Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. MERS has since killed 851 people globally, according to the WHO.
But the new coronavirus in Wuhan appears to not be as lethal as SARS or MERS. Its symptoms are mainly fever, with a number of patients having difficulty breathing. Eight patients had recovered and been discharged from hospital as of Wednesday, and no deaths have been reported, according to CCTV.
The virus was first detected in Wuhan on December 12. Since then, a total of 59 people have been struck by the illness, with seven patients in critical condition at some stage, Chinese health authorities said on Sunday.
Authorities said there has been no obvious evidence of human-to-human transmission, and no healthcare workers have been infected.
Some of the patients were employed at a seafood market in Wuhan. Local media reported the market also sold other live animals, including birds, rabbits and snakes – sparking concerns that the virus might have been transmitted to humans from animals.
According to the WHO, coronaviruses can infect both humans and animals. The coronavirus that causes SARS was traced to the civet cat, a wild animal considered a delicacy in parts of southern China, where the epidemic began. And dromedary camels are considered a likely source of MERS.
Professor Leo Poon, a virologist at Hong Kong University and SARS expert, said coronaviruses can be found in many animals, including pigs, cattle, dogs, cats, bats and birds. Six coronaviruses are known to infect humans – four of them typically cause the common co