According to Chinese state media, the first fatality is a 61-year-old man, The New York Times reported. The man, who was not identified, passed away on Thursday night.
The patient was a regular customer at the South China Seafood City food market, the same location where many of the cases have been traced back to. Prior to falling ill, the man had been diagnosed with abdominal tumors. He also suffered from chronic liver disease, according to the outlet.
The news comes after scientists in China researching the outbreak identified a new type of coronavirus as the likely culprit behind the illnesses, Chinese state media reported last week.
Lead scientist Xu Jianguo said that “preliminary tests” indicated a new coronavirus is the cause of the illness. At least 41 people have tested positive for the pathogen, with seven patients considered in critical condition, according to The New York Times.
The city of Wuhan, China.
Coronavirus can cause a range of illnesses, from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) — the latter of which infected some 8,000 people in 2003. At least 770 died after it spread to other cities and countries. No new cases of SARS have been reported since 2004, according to The Associated Press.
That said, Chinese state media say the illness in Wuhan is different from coronaviruses that have been identified in the past. Earlier laboratory tests ruled out SARS and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), as well as influenza, bird flu, adenovirus, and other common respiratory pathogens.
Symptoms of coronaviruses, which can spread through coughing or sneezing or by touching an infected person, include a runny nose, headache, cough and fever. Shortness of breath, chills and body aches are associated with more dangerous kinds of coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.