BEIJING The outbreak in central China of viral pneumonia caused by a newly-discovered coronavirus similar to the one that causes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) has claimed its first victim, municipal authorities reported on Friday.
According to a statement by the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission, the 61-year-old man was hospitalized with severe pneumonia while suffering from an abdominal tumor and chronic liver disease, although the cause of death was declared to be respiratory and circulatory failure.
After the completion of lab tests, a total of 41 cases of this mysterious viral pneumonia have been diagnosed. Two of these patients have been discharged, another seven are in serious condition and one has died.
The rest of the patients are stable and no new cases have been detected among the 739 people who have been in contact with the patients, including 419 members of the medical teams.
According to the commission, no more infections have been detected over the last three days and there is no evidence that there has been any further contagion between humans.
The outbreak has sparked a health panic in China since the pathogen causing it and its origin were unknown. For many, the situation was reminiscent of 2003, when SARS spread across the country and caused a total of 646 deaths (813 worldwide), according to figures from the World Health Organization.
According to the WHO, between 14 and 15 percent of SARS cases end in death, while in the case of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), a related disease also caused by a coronavirus, the mortality rate shoots up to 35 percent.
Lab tests indicated that this new outbreak of pneumonia is also caused by a coronavirus. There were only six types of this family of viruses known until now: four of them just cause mild respiratory conditions similar to a cold and the other two are responsible for SARS and MERS.
The symptoms described for Wuhan pneumonia so far are fever and fatigue, accompanied by dry cough and, in many cases, dyspnea (shortness of breath).
The investigation suggests that the current outbreak originated at a fish and seafood market in the city capital of the province of Hubei and home to about 11 million people which has been shut down by the authorities.
The majority of those affected by the outbreak were sellers or customers at that market, but the local government has decided to strengthen security and monitoring at all public places in the city, especially in agricultural products markets.
The Health Commission asked citizens today to try to avoid poorly-ventilated places and areas with large crowds of people, and to wear masks to prevent contagion.
If you feel symptoms of respiratory infection and fever, and especially if the fever persists, please go to a medical institution as soon as possible, the statement said.