China seeks to identify cause of mystery pneumonia infecting 44

The yet-unidentified source of the outbreak has led to rumors, mainly on social media, about a possible severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak and speculation about the possible emergence of a new zoonotic virus.

The patient sought treatment for symptoms, which include fever, at Tuen Mun Hospital in Hong Kong's New Territories on December 31, said the Hospital Authority, which oversees the Chinese city's public medical institutions.

Yuen Kwok-yung, a microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong, told local media on Wednesday that the viral infection in Wuhan appeared similar to the 1997 outbreak of bird flu and the SARS epidemic in China.

Singapore's Ministry of Health said temperature screening will be implemented at Changi Airport for all travelers arriving from the central Chinese city of Wuhan. Now, health workers and government officials say that two female patients from Hong Kong are also exhibiting symptoms, and that the pair had visited Wuhan just two weeks prior.

"The cause of the disease is not clear", the official People's Daily newspaper said on Weibo, citing unnamed hospital officials. Initial lab tests that showed "no apparent human-to-human transmission" and no medical staff were infected, according to the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission.

An investigation and cleanup were under way at a seafood market in the city where most of the patients worked.

At least 30 people have been quarantined in China after they were struck down by a mysterious flu-like virus of "unknown origin", sparking fears of a return of the dreaded SARS epidemic. The city has hasn't received any Wuhan-related severe pneumonia cases, Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan told reporters Thursday.

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"Suspect cases with fever and acute respiratory illness or pneumonia and with travel history to Wuhan within 14 days before onset of symptoms will be isolated as a precautionary measure to prevent transmission", the city-state's Ministry of Health said in a Facebook post.

Wuhan police this week said they had summoned eight people who "posted and forwarded false information online, causing adverse social impact".

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said it was monitoring the situation closely.

"As of 3 January, a total of 44 pneumonia cases have been detected, with 11 people now in severe condition, while the vital signs of the rest are considered generally stable", the Wuhan health authorities said.

From Friday, extra infra-red thermographic cameras will be used to check whether a traveler coming in on a flight or by fast train from Wuhan has a fever, the Hong Kong government said on Thursday evening.

None of the regional authorities have expanded inspections and screening measures to cover other parts of China.

  • Ismael Montgomery