A mysterious illness in parts of China has triggered fears of another outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the infectious disease that killed over 700 people in 2002-03.

In a notice published Tuesday on its website, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission confirmed that disease-monitoring organizations in the central Chinese city had recently discovered 27 cases of viral pneumonia.

Patients commonly displayed symptoms including fever, difficulty breathing, and lung damage. Among those infected, seven are in a serious condition, 18 are stable and two have become well enough to be discharged from hospital, the notice said. Most patients fell ill after visiting the same seafood market, the notice said, hinting that the virus has a common origin.

On Tuesday, unverified information that circulated widely on the Chinese internet claimed the cause of the illnesses was SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, a viral respiratory disease that infected thousands of people in southern China and Hong Kong in 2002 and 2003. The epidemic caused some 774 deaths in a number of countries and territories.

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