A mystery illness affecting a number of people in central China has sparked fear among medical professionals that it could lead to a deadly epidemic, reports The South China Morning Post. Doctors believe that the disease, which has not been identified, may be a new type of virus that is giving victims severe pneumonia.
Though no deaths have been reported, 44 people have currently been admitted to the hospital with the mystery virus. Of those, around 11 are in serious condition. In addition, 121 people who had been in contact with the sick have been placed under medical observation.
Doctors fear that it could quickly echo the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic of 2002-2003. The disease claimed the lives of 750 people — 349 in mainland China and an additional 299 in Hong Kong.
Currently, experts are scrambling to figure out if the virus is an extremely rare strain or if it is entirely new.
"If it were Sars [Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome], we are experienced in managing it," explained Emily Chan Ying-yang, a medical professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, to The South China Morning Post.
"But if it is a new strain, then we should pay attention," she added.
Chan also spoke about the chilling mortality rate of lung-related illnesses.
"The scariest thing with SARS is its fatality rate, and that young people died. We don't know whether the serious cases in Wuhan are young or old people – that deserves attention," she said.
Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said that the origin of this new viral pneumonia outbreak remained unknown, but already some are looking to a fish factory as a potential source of the disease.
Most of the patients were stallholders at the city's Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, suggesting that the virus could have made the jump from animal to human — like with swine flu and avian flu. The market has since been closed as a precaution.
Similarly, all nurses and doctors who have dealt with infected patients have been placed on lockdown. One man said that his wife, who worked as a nurse in the Wuhan Medical Treatment Center, had not been home in several days due to the quarantine.
"My kids and I can still call her on her mobile," he said. "[But] we are very worried for her, although she said all is fine."
Heightened fever screenings have also taken place at several airports, including those in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan.
Meanwhile, the United States is dealing with its own lung-based epidemic in the form of Juul damage. As reported by The Inquisitr, researchers have pointed to two toxins in the pods that can lead to long term lung damage. The electronic cigarette has been blamed for 52 deaths across the nation.