Experts urge need for further investigation after some of the 59 people reported infected were traced to a seafood market.
The swift discovery of a new strain of coronavirus is a “notable achievement”, but more information is needed to understand it, experts said after China identified the mystery pneumonia outbreak in Wuhan that infected 59 people.
A top official at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told Xinhua on Thursday that laboratory tests had identified the new virus and the whole genome sequence had been obtained.
Fifteen patients in Wuhan had tested positive for the virus, which showed “typical coronavirus morphology”, according to Xu Jianguo, director of the CDC’s National Institute for Communicable Disease Control and Prevention, who headed a group of experts to identify the illness.
“The pathogen of these unexplained cases of viral pneumonia was initially identified as a new type of coronavirus,” he said, adding that initial identification needed to be followed up with further research.
State broadcaster China Central Television reported the same earlier on Thursday, citing a task force of medical experts.
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause diseases varying in severity from the common cold to the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars). 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 are Sars, which killed more than 700 people worldwide after originating in China, and Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers), which had caused 449 deaths by 2015.
Dr Gauden Galea, the World Health Organisation (WHO) representative to China, described the preliminary identification of the new coronavirus in a short period of time as “a notable achievement” that would help authorities in other countries to detect and respond to outbreaks. But he called for more comprehensive information to understand what triggered the outbreak and how to manage it in the coming weeks.
“Further investigations are also required to determine the source, modes of transmission, extent of infection and countermeasures implemented,” Dr Galea said.
He said the WHO would continue to monitor the situation closely and was ready to provide technical support to China to investigate and respond to the outbreak.
This article was originally published on South China Morning Post