Jan. 2 (UPI) -- Concerns of an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome are rising in China following the hospitalization of more than two dozen market vendors in the central city of Wuhan.
Authorities are also cracking down on social media comments on the mysterious pneumonia spreading in the country since the outbreak on Tuesday.
Chinese paper People's Daily reported Thursday authorities in Wuhan are investigating and charging eight defendants for allegedly "spreading false rumors online" about the pneumonia outbreak.
Since Tuesday a total of 27 people, most of them vendors at Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, have been hospitalized, Wuhan's health authorities said. Seven people remain in serious condition, according to the South China Morning Post.
The symptoms of the disease are triggering fears in China of a second SARS outbreak, similar to the epidemic that rocked the mainland and Hong Kong from 2002 to 2003.
SARS killed hundreds of people and the SARS virus may have been transmitted from animals to humans. The market in Wuhan where the pneumonia began included vendors who sold pheasants and snakes, according to local Chinese media.
The pneumonia outbreak was first reported on CCTV ahead of New Year's Day. Authorities say the patients undergoing treatment have been quarantined.
The World Health Organization issued a statement in response to the outbreak.
"Investigations are still being carried out, and authorities cannot yet confirm what pathogen is causing this illness," said Paige Snider, a senior adviser with the WHO in China, according to the Post.
"There are many potential causes of viral pneumonia, many of which are more common than severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus. WHO is closely monitoring this event and will share more details as we have them."
The disease has placed Hong Kong on alert. A Hong Kong woman returning from Wuhan was hospitalized after showing symptoms of upper respiratory infection, according to the Post on Thursday.
The pneumonia outbreak comes about a month after health authorities confirmed multiple cases of the bubonic plague in northern China.