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China launches probe into mysterious viral pneumonia amid rumors of SARS 2.0

China launches probe into mysterious viral pneumonia amid rumors of SARS 2.0
Dozens of patients have been quarantined and several hospitals put on alert in central China amid an outbreak of a viral pneumonia of unknown origin.

There have been a total of 27 confirmed cases since the start of December in Wuhan, with the majority appearing to come from a single seafood market in the city. Health workers are still working to pinpoint the source, while also disinfecting the marketplace as a precaution. 

Seven patients are critically ill, 18 others are in stable condition, and two are recovering and are expected to be released shortly, according to the Wuhan health department. So far no human-to-human infection has taken place and no medical staff have contracted the illness.

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Experts from the National Health Commission have been dispatched to determine both the cause and scope of the outbreak and whether there is any truth to the rumors online that this may be the next SARS. 

Comparisons to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) were drawn on social media after the city's health department posted a notice online Monday which instructed hospitals to report any and all new cases of the as yet unidentified viral pneumonia. 

SARS was a respiratory illness which killed hundreds of people in China at the turn of the millennium, with some 5,300 infections leading to 349 deaths between 2002 and 2003. A further 299 were killed in Hong Kong.

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The World Health Organization (WHO) criticized China at the time for downplaying and underreporting the rate of infection. The WHO later declared China free of the virus in May 2004. 

However, local health experts have dismissed rumors that the current outbreak could be related, saying it is unlikely to be SARS, or a similar mutation, or offshoot, given how confined the outbreak has been.

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