Health bosses in China on Sunday confirmed that 17 more people have been struck down by pneumonia caused by a new strain, sparking fears of a global pandemic .
The announcement comes less than a week before the country is due to celebrate Chinese Lunar New Year where much of the population travel to be with loved ones.
Three of those patients are seriously ill with the new coronavirus strain, according to a statement issued by the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission.
The total number of patients infected by the disease in China, all of them in central city of Wuhan, has now climbed to 62. Two have died.
The 17 new patients began exhibiting symptoms such as a fever or cough before January 13, the statement said.
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The Chinese Lunar New Year is a one-week holiday that starts on January 24.
The new virus belongs to the large family of coronaviruses that includes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 800 people globally during a 2002-2003 outbreak that also started in China.
The United States said on Friday that it would begin screening efforts at three US airports to track travellers from Wuhan who may have symptoms of the fever.
Though experts say the new virus does not appear to be as lethal as SARS, little is known about its origins and it is not clear whether human-to-human transmission can occur.
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Thailand has reported two cases of the virus and Japan has reported one.
All of the cases so far have involved people either living in Wuhan or who have travelled to the city.
Viral epidemics like the Wuhan coronavirus have occurred throughout human history, sometimes causing significant numbers of deaths.
But it is only in recent history that global air travel has made a worldwide pandemic – a so-called "plane plague" – a serious possibility.
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With over two billion passengers per year, crammed together in a small space for hours at a time, global airline travel has unprecedented potential to spread emerging infectious diseases.
“This is a serious situation,” Nancy Messonnier, MD, director of America’s National Centre for Immunisation and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, said during a news briefing.
“We have faced this challenge before with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) — both were complex and required a comprehensive health response.
"Because of that experience, we know it is important to be proactive and prepared.”
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