China: Pneumonia cluster reported in Wuhan, Hubei Province, Agent still unknown

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With some netizens likening the epidemic to the deadly outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus that killed nearly 800 people in 2002-2003 after being covered up by Chinese authorities, the Hong Kong and Taiwan government have called for faster genetic testing after Chinese authorities said they were yet to confirm the cause of the outbreak.

An emergency notification issued by the Wuhan municipal health committee said hospitals in the city had treated a "successive series of patients with unexplained pneumonia".

All travellers to Wuhan are advised to monitor their health closely and to seek medical attention promptly if they feel unwell, and to also inform their doctor of their travel history, said the ministry.

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 condition of two other patients had improved to the point where they would be discharged soon, it said.

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Patients have been reporting symptoms ranging from fever, to shortness of breath and lung infections, but health officials remain baffled as to what's causing the illness. Thus far, there have been no clear indications of human-to-human transmission of the disease, the commission said.

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. The city has hasn't received any Wuhan-related severe pneumonia cases, Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan told reporters Thursday.

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.

Most of the patients were stallholders at the local Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, which has been shut down in the wake of the outbreak while authorities investigate.

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Every day, there are four trains that run between Hong Kong and Wuhan. Despite the fact that additional infections have been confirmed, it's still believed that the virus doesn't pass from person to person, as no medical staff or relatives of those who are infected have been diagnosed with the same illness. "World Health Organization is closely monitoring this event and will share more details as we have them".

The virus was first discovered in China's Guangdong province in 2002, after which it spread to Hong Kong and other cities.

Since 2004, there have not been any known cases of SARS reported anywhere in the world, the NHS says.

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