Chinese scientists investigating a mystery illness that has infected dozens in the central city of Wuhan have said it is a new strain of coronavirus from the same family that caused the 2002-03 Sars epidemic.
Laboratory tests have found a new type of coronavirus and the whole genome sequence of the new virus has been obtained, state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) reported on Thursday, citing a task force of experts.
Fifteen patients had tested positive for the new coronavirus, the report stated. It said the virus had been isolated from one of the 15 patients and showed “typical coronavirus morphology” under electron microscope observation.
“The pathogen of these unexplained cases of viral pneumonia was initially identified as a new type of coronavirus,” the report quoted the expert group as saying.
There have been 59 reported cases of the mysterious virus in Wuhan since late December, some of them connected to a seafood market in which wild animals had been sold. The market has since been closed.
Retrospective study identified that the first case had been identified on December 12 and the latest on December 29. No deaths have been reported and eight patients, no longer showing pneumonia symptoms, had been discharged from hospital by Wednesday.
The Wuhan health authority has said that no human-to-human transmission has so far been detected.
Coronaviruses can infect mammals such as pigs, cattle, cats, dogs, camels, bats and mice, as well as humans. Of the six previously known human coronaviruses, four were common and caused only minor respiratory symptoms similar to those of a cold.
The other two were serious respiratory diseases: the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) coronavirus that killed more than 700 people worldwide after originating in China, and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus that had caused 449 deaths by 2015.
299 people died of Sars in Hong Kong during the outbreak.