China says second person dies in Wuhan pneumonia outbreak

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - A second person has died from pneumonia in the central Chinese city of Wuhan following an outbreak believed to be caused by a new coronavirus strain, local health authorities said.

The 69-year-old man had been admitted to hospital with abnormal renal function and severe damage to multiple organs, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said in a statement on its website late on Thursday. He died on Jan. 15.

Though the known cases of the pneumonia outbreak so far involve only individuals who have traveled to or live in Wuhan, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that a wider outbreak is possible and warned hospitals worldwide.

The exact cause of the outbreak remains unclear, though a seafood market in the city is suspected to be the epicenter.

WHO, China and other countries seek to prevent further spreading of the virus ahead of the Lunar New Year holidays next week, when many of the 1.4 billion Chinese citizens will be traveling abroad.

Beijing has stepped up disinfection efforts in major transportation hubs, while the WHO has given guidance to hospitals worldwide on infection prevention and control.

Memories remain fresh in Asia of a 2002/03 outbreak of SARS, which emerged in China and killed nearly 800 people worldwide.

Thailand reported a second case of pneumonia on Thursday, a 74-year-old Chinese woman from Wuhan who has been quarantined. The country expects nearly a million Chinese visitors during the Lunar New Year break and has increased monitoring at airports that have flights from Wuhan.

WHO said in a statement on Thursday it advises against any travel or trade restrictions based on current information available, however.

Japan on Thursday also confirmed a man in his 30s had been infected with the virus after visiting Wuhan.

The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said no new cases have been discovered in the city as of Wednesday and the number of known cases remain at 41. It said 12 people have been discharged and 5 remain in a serious condition.

The authority also said 644 of the 763 people who had come in close contact with known patients are no longer under medical observation.

Reporting by Twinnie Siu in Hong Kong, Engen Tham in Shanghai and Se Young Lee in Beijing; Editing by Richard Pullin and Michael Perry