Health officials say SARS isn't the cause of a mystery illness that has sickened dozens of people in the Chinese city of Wuhan—but it may be a related virus. The World Health Organization says the viral pneumonia may be the result of a newly emerging coronavirus, a family of viruses that can cause mild illnesses like the common cold as well as more serious illnesses like SARS and MERS, which killed hundreds of people in 2012, reports Reuters. According to state media in China, Chinese researchers have identified a new type of coronavirus in Wuhan and have detected it in at least 15 of the 59 cases of pneumonia reported since December. The researchers say the disease does not transmit easily between people.
Gauden Galea, a WHO representative in China, says Chinese researchers identified the "novel virus" by conducting gene sequencing from a patient sample, the AP reports. "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 Wednesday. Authorities suspect the Wuhan outbreak began in a seafood market that also sold meat from wild animals. RTHK reports that almost 40 patients in Hong Kong suspected of having the Wuhan illness have been placed in isolation, but no cases have been confirmed. Authorities in Taiwan and Singapore are also dealing with suspected cases. (Read more medical mystery stories.)