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China's Mystery Illness May Be 'Occurring in the Right Spot'

It's not SARS, officials have confirmed
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 6, 2020 2:55 PM CST
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Hong Kong authorities activated a newly created “serious response" level Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020, as fears spread about a mysterious infectious disease that may have been brought back by visitors to a mainland Chinese city.   (Hong Kong Government Information Service via AP)
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(Newser) A mystery illness that is striking China isn't SARS—but it's dredging up memories and fears of the deadly outbreak that began in 2002 and killed 800-plus people. As of Sunday, at least 59 people have come down with a pneumonia-like illness in the city of Wuhan and are being treated in isolation. What's causing it isn't known—so far MERS, bird flu, and the adenovirus have also been struck from the list of possibilities—but the symptoms align: a high fever, breathing issues, and lung lesions. The one connection that has emerged is a local seafood market where some of the patients had worked, reports the AP. STAT News reports the market was thought to also sell "exotic animals" as food; the market was shut down so it could be disinfected and investigated.

The New York Times notes the virus that caused SARS originated in a market—from infected civet cats sold as a delicacy, though the true root of the outbreak was likely bats; experts posit that contact with infected animals is again a likely cause of this illness. One positive note from an American coronavirus (that's the family of viruses behind SARS) expert: "It's occurring in the right spot," he tells STAT of the mystery disease, noting that Wuhan "is the epicenter for a lot of virology research in China" and home to labs where the world's deadliest pathogens are studied.

(Read more medical mystery stories.)

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