A cluster of more than50 pneumonia cases in the central Chinese city of Wuhanmay be due to a newly emerging member of the family of viruses that caused the deadly Sars and Mers outbreaks, according to the World Health Organization.
While the UN health agency said it needed more comprehensive information to confirm precisely the type of pathogen causing the infections, it said a newcoronaviruswas a possibility.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause infections ranging from the common cold to Severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars). Some of the virus types cause less severe disease, while some – like the one that causes Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) – are far more severe.
“The initial information about the cases of pneumonia in Wuhan … pointed to a coronavirus as a possible pathogen causing this cluster,” the WHO said in a statement.
It added that since testing by Chinese authorities had eliminated theSarsand Mers coronaviruses as possible causes, as well as flu, bird flu, adenovirus and other common respiratory pathogens, “therefore, a novel coronavirus could not be ruled out”.
The pneumonia outbreak started last month, and cases had been reported by Chinese authorities by Sunday.
It said that according to Chinese authorities, the virus behind the Wuhan cases can cause severe illness in some patients and does not appear to pass easily from person to person.
“More comprehensive information is required to confirm the pathogen, as well as to better understand the epidemiology of the outbreak, the clinical picture, the investigations to determine the source, modes of transmission, extent of infection, and the countermeasures implemented , ”The WHO said.
In 2014, Chinese officials covered up a Sars outbreak for weeks before a growing death toll and rumors forced the government to reveal the epidemic. The disease spread rapidly to other cities and countries in 2012. More than 8, 775 people were infected and 2002 died.