Sars ruled out as cause of Wuhan virus; WHO says no evidence of human-to-human transmission

The mystery Wuhan virus struck 59 people so far in the city in the central Hubei province.
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Chinese health authorities have ruled out Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) as the source of the mystery Wuhan virus that has struck 59 people so far in the city in the central Hubei province.

The city’s health authorities have also ruled out bird flu and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus, or Mers-cov, as the cause of a spate of viral pneumonia cases.

Of the 59 people affected, seven are in critical condition, according to an update released by the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission on Sunday night (Jan 5). The number of patients in critical condition has fallen from 11 after treatment, the commission said, adding that all patients are in quarantine and in a stable condition.

Some of the patients are sellers from a local seafood wholesale market in the city. They fell ill between Dec 12 and 29. Besides seafood, the market is known to also sell live animals, including birds and snakes, and the organs of rabbits and other wildlife, according to media reports.

Chinese health authorities are racing to identify the mystery virus and its source. Some 163 people who had close contact with those affected have since been put under observation, and Chinese authorities are searching for more close contacts.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said in a statement that based on the preliminary information from the Chinese investigation team, “no evidence of significant human-to-human transmission and no health care worker infections have been reported”.

But it added that the fact that the cases are linked to a wholesale market, could indicate an “exposure link to animals”.

Meanwhile, a three-year-old girl with a history of travel to Wuhan,  who was hospitalised in Singapore with pneumonia, turned out to have Respiratory Syncytial Virus.

The virus, a common cause of childhood pneumonia, is not linked to the Wuhan pneumonia cases, Singapore’s Ministry of Health said on Sunday.

The mystery Wuhan virus has raised the spectre of the deadly, flu-like Sars virus, which originated in China and killed more than 700 people around the world in 2002 and 2003.

Beijing’s handling of Sars then was heavily criticised – when it initially sought to cover-up the epidemic, a move which experts said led to more deaths.

Chinese netizens had initially blamed Sars as the source of the latest outbreak, prompting police in Wuhan to arrest eight people for spreading rumours.

The WHO has said it is closely monitoring the situation and is in close contact with Chinese national health authorities. Authorities in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and the Philippines have increased precautions at airports to prevent any possible spread of the infections.

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