Chinese authorities have launched an investigation into a mysterious pneumonia-like illness that has affected 59 people in the region. Seven of the cases are said to be “severe.” The Chinese healthcare authorities in Wuhan, the city where the outbreak began to spread last month, have confirmed that 163 people who had had contact with patients were under observation.
According to a statement by the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission, the first patient who fell ill began to show symptoms on December 12 and the last date of the symptom onset among the sick was December 29.
Diseases ruled out
Health officials in Wuhan have confirmed that the new illness is not severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) or bird flu and that they are still working to identify the cause and source.
The viral pneumonia has prompted fears of a possible SARS epidemic that killed over 700 people around the world in 2002 – 2003, originating in China. There has been widespread speculation on social media about the new illness’s possible connection to the highly contagious disease.
Wuhan police said eight people had been punished for “publishing or forwarding false information on the internet without verification.”
Initial laboratory tests show that the cases are viral pneumonia. The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission says there have been no obvious human-to-human transmission found and no medical staff have been infected.
Travelers to Wuhan have been advised to practice good hygiene and avoid visiting poultry farms or fish markets while in Wuhan.
Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan have begun conducting airport screenings to closely monitor passengers arriving from Wuhan.
Authorities in Hong Kong say a total of 15 patients on the island may have contracted the mysterious pneumonia illness and are being treated in the hospital. Hospitals and doctors have been directed to report cases of fever in anyone who has traveled to Wuhan in the past 14 days, Hong Kong’s health chief Sophia Chan said on January 5.
Singapore’s first suspected case of the mysterious pneumonia illness involves a three-year-old girl from China with travel history to Wuhan. She was cleared of suspicion on January 5 after Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH) confirmed that tests indicate her case is not linked to the outbreak.
A total of eight passengers aboard eight different direct flights from Wuhan to Taiwan have developed fever since December 31, says Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Three of them are being closely monitored by local health authorities.