A 61-year-old man has died from pneumonia in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in an outbreak of a yet to be identified virus while seven others are in critical condition, the Wuhan health authorities say.
In total, 41 people have been diagnosed with the pathogen, which preliminary lab tests cited by Chinese state media earlier this week pointed to a new type of coronavirus, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said in a statement on its website.
Two of them have been discharged from hospital and the rest are in stable condition, while 739 people deemed to have been in close contact with the patients have been cleared, it said.
The man, the first victim of the outbreak that began in December, was a regular buyer at the seafood market, who had been previously diagnosed with abdominal tumours and chronic liver disease, the health authority said.
Treatments did not improve his symptoms after he was admitted to hospital and he died on the evening of January 9 when his heart failed.
The commission added that no new cases had been detected since January 3.
The Wuhan health authority also said that the patients were mainly vendors and purchasers at a seafood market in the city, and that to date no medical staff had been infected, nor had clear evidence of human-to-human transmission been found.
The World Health Organisation said that a newly emerging member of the family of viruses that caused the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreaks, could be the cause of the present outbreak.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause infections ranging from the common cold to SARS. Some of the virus types cause less serious disease, while some like the one that causes MERS, are far more severe.
Genetic sequence decoded
Chinese medical workers have obtained the virus' genetic sequence, a major step forward in curbing an epidemic outbreak, an expert said.
Wang Guangfa, a leading respiratory physician with the Peking University First Hospital, said in an interview with China Central Television (CCTV) that preliminary research completed by medical workers showed that the disease is related to a new type of coronavirus.
In addition, medical experts have obtained the genetic sequence of the previously unknown virus, meaning they are now one step closer in disclosing the cause of the recent rise in viral pneumonia cases in Wuhan, said Wang.
"Because when we have this virus' [genetic] sequence, we can design the PCR kit, then we will be able to carry out clinic diagnosis. I think we have done pretty good on that," he said.
"It's largely under control. Most patients are showing lighter symptoms, and some of them have already been discharged."
China's National Health Commission has said that China will share the newly-obtained genetic sequence of the virus with the World Health Organization (WHO) to curb the virus from further spreading.