There has been "limited" human-to-human transmission of a new coronavirus that has struck in China, mainly small clusters in families, but there is potential for wider spread, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.
A Chinese woman has been quarantined in Thailand with a mystery strain, authorities said on Monday, the first time it has been detected outside China.
In all, 41 cases of pneumonia, a symptom of the disease, have been reported in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, mainly through exposure at a seafood market.
Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, acting head of WHO's emerging diseases unit, told a Geneva news briefing that the agency had given guidance to hospitals worldwide about infection control in case of spread, including by a "super-spreading" event in a health care setting.
"This is something on our radar, it is possible, we need to prepare ourselves," she said.
China reports first death
Earlier this week on Saturday, health authorities in a central Chinese city reported the country's first death from a new type of coronavirus as the government braced for the Lunar New Year travel boom amid concerns over a possible outbreak similar to that of the Sars virus in the early 2000s.
The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said seven other people were in critical condition among a total of 41 who were suffering from pneumonia caused by a "preliminarily determined new type of coronavirus” as of Friday.
That was down from the earlier figure of 59. The others were in stable condition and at least two had been released from a hospital.
The patient who died was identified as a 61-year-old man who had been hospitalised after suffering shortness of breath and severe pneumonia.
The commission said the man, who died Thursday, also suffered from abdominal tumours and chronic liver disease and had been a frequent customer at a food market on Wuhan's outskirts linked to the majority of cases.
China says the cause of the Wuhan outbreak remains unknown, but has sought to quash speculation that it could be a reappearance of the Sars epidemic, which killed hundreds in 2002 and 2003. China initially sought to conceal the Sars outbreak.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, some of which cause the common cold. Others found in bats, camels and other animals have evolved into more severe illnesses.
Common symptoms include a runny nose, headache, cough and fever. Shortness of breath, chills and body aches are associated with more dangerous kinds of coronaviruses, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
China's transport ministry says it plans additional measures to disinfect trains, planes and buses and prevent transmission of diseases during the 40-day travel rush centred on the Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, which falls this year in January.