First Case Of SARS-Like Pneumonia Reported Outside China As Scientists Scramble To Develop New Test

The World Health Organization has confirmed that a woman traveling from China to Thailand is infected with a SARS-like mystery virus at the heart of an outbreak in Wuhan.

An image of the new SARS-like coronavirus (Photo: GISAID)

The woman was hospitalized January 8, making it the first confirmed case of the new coronavirus detected outside China.

"The possibility of cases being identified in other countries was not unexpected, and reinforces why WHO calls for ongoing active monitoring and preparedness in other countries," the WHO said in a statement.

In total, 41 people have been diagnosed with the new virus, while a 61-year-old man has died according to the Wuhan municipal health commission. Seven patients have been discharged while six remain in critical condition, reports The Guardian.

Meanwhile, a team of Hong Kong experts few to Wuhan on Monday to meet with health officials as seven suspected cases have been reported in the city across six hospitals. All had been to the mainland city of Wuhan in the past two weeks, after which they developed a fever, respiratory infection or pneumonia symptoms. Of note, none of them had visited the meat markets linked to the outbreak.

The Hong Kong Center for Health Protection confirmed on Sunday that China's National Health Commission had shared the genetic sequence for the new coronavirus with the World Health Organization, as scientists scramble to develop a test for the strain.

In a statement, the center said that relevant institutions had uploaded the genetic sequence into an online database called GISAID, which "is cross-checking the information and will publish it upon completion."

"The [Center's] Public Health Laboratory Services Branch ... as one of the users [of the genetic database], will obtain the genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus. While [the branch] is conducting molecular testing for a number of coronaviruses, it will develop specific tests based on the information of the new sequence," the announcement continues.

According to SCMP, genetically sequencing viruses is a useful technique to assist in understanding the nature of disease, and will allow for custom-tailored diagnostics that can quickly identify illnesses and relevant care as outbreaks unfold.