A new respiratory virus that is thought to have originated in the GCC now appears to be spreading through human contact, the World Health Organization has said.
However, WHO Assistant Director-General Keiji Fukuda said the virus has yet to sustain “generalized transmission in communities,” a scenario that would raise the specter of a pandemic, Reuters reports.
Fukuda made the remarks while speaking to reporters in Saudi Arabia, which has seen a recent outbreak of 15 cases, doubling the number of patients worldwide who have been diagnosed with the virus. He added:
“Of most concern … is the fact that the different clusters seen in multiple countries … increasingly support the hypothesis that when there is close contact, this novel coronavirus can transmit from person to person. There is a need for countries to … increase levels of awareness.”
Novel coronavirus (nCoV), which hails from the same family as the deadly SARS virus that killed some 800 people a decade ago, was first discovered last September in a patient in KSA. Since then, the virus that causes coughing, fever and breathing difficulties has been diagnosed in 34 people worldwide, killing 18 of those patients.
Scientists are still working to determine how the virus spreads. Previously, nCoV did not appear to be extremely contagious. However, someone in close contact with an infected person does appear more likely to contract the virus.
Saudi Arabia’s Health Ministry said it has had 24 confirmed cases since last summer, of whom 15 had died. About half of those deaths occurred during a recent outbreak in al-Ahsa, in the Al Moosa General Hospital in Hofuf, which is 300km from Doha.
Fukuda said there were no specific vaccines or medicines to battle nCoV, but that patients were responding to general treatment.
“The care that is taken in the hospitals, in terms of using respirators well, in terms of treating pneumonia, in terms of treating complications, in terms of providing support, these steps can get patients through this very severe illness,” he said.
So far, nCoV has affected patients in KSA, Qatar, the UAE, the UK, France and Jordan. WHO maintains that it does not advise countries to conduct special screening at points of entry or any travel restrictions because of the virus.
Credit: Photo by Alex Proimos