The coronavirus which has already claimed nine lives in China may have started out in the same mammals as Sars.

As officials work to control the spread of the disease, scientists in the Asian country are studying the mysterious virus.

Research conducted at China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention suggests it shared a common ancestor with severe acute respiratory syndrome, or Sars.

The latter disease was a virus found in fruit bats which transferred to humans and claimed 774 lives.

It is believed the virus originated in fruit bats
It is believed the virus originated in fruit bats

Fortunately, in its current form the coronavirus is a weaker strain than its early 2000s relative, SCMP reported.

It is thought that fruit bats are also natural Ebola virus hosts, according to the World Health Organisation.

Gao Fu, director of the disease management centre, believes the virus originated from wild animals sold at a seafood market in Wuhan.

A cyclist wears a mask close to the now closed Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market
A cyclist wears a mask close to the now closed Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market
Sars and Ebola also had origins in the flying mammals
Sars and Ebola also had origins in the flying mammals

He warned that a major challenge was that the new strain was adapting and mutating.

In a bid to stop the disease spreading further, companies in China are handing out masks and warning staff to avoid the central city of Wuhan.

Firms from Foxconn to Huawei Technologies and HSBC Holdings have issued advice for their employees.

Medical staff outside a hospital in Wuhan where patients have contracted pneumonia from coronavirus
Medical staff outside a hospital in Wuhan where patients have contracted pneumonia from coronavirus
The human coronavirus causes respiratory infections
The human coronavirus causes respiratory infections

Huawei Technologies has asked staff to reduce travel to Wuhan and avoid contact with animals, adding that it had set up an outbreak prevention and control team in the city to carry out disinfecting activities, according to an internal note seen by Reuters.

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Government officials have urged members of the public to be extra careful if showing symptoms of a fever or a cold.

The death toll rose to nine on Wednesday with more than 470 confirmed cases, Chinese health officials said.