A Hong Kong University virologist says it is too soon to say whether an outbreak of a pneumonia-like illness in the mainland city of Wuhan marks the re-emergence of the deadly Sars virus, and further tests are needed.
Mainland state media on Tuesday quoted health officials as saying a number of hospitals and clinics in Wuhan are dealing with people suffering from pneumonia where the cause isn't known.
The 27 patients, who have been placed in isolation, had all visited a seafood market in Wuhan, reports said. Seven of the patients were reported to be seriously ill.
Media outlets on the mainland also quoted experts from a Shanghai university as saying the virus the patients have been infected with appears to be very similar to Sars.
But HKU professor Leo Poon, who was one of the first scientists to decode the Sars coronoavirus sequence after the 2003 epidemic which killed almost 300 people in Hong Kong, said it is too early to draw any conclusions.
"So far there is no evidence to say these are Sars cases and so I think it is just premature to say this is a Sars event. But, of course, it will be very important to actually find out what is the aetiology of this disease," Poon said.
"Having atypical pneumonia means we don't know what are the pathogens responsible for this disease at the moment. So we need to look for that and try to exclude Sars or other types of coronaviruses," Poon told RTHK's Richard Pyne.