An official for the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the new coronavirus can be transmitted from human to human after prolonged contact.
The novel coronavirus was first identified in a 2012 Jordan outbreak. Now there is an outbreak in the Al-Ahsa region of Saudi Arabia, where seven of 13 infected patients have died.
There have been 18 deaths and 34 confirmed cases of novel coronavirus worldwide, including cases in Britain and France among people who recently traveled in the Middle East.
The French Ministry of Health recently announced a new case: a French woman who just returned from a trip to the United Arab Emirates. A man who shared a room with the infected woman was later diagnosed with the illness, French authorities announced Sunday.
Keiji Fukuda, WHO’s assistant director general, said there is no reason to believe the virus can sustain “generalized transmission in communities.” Rather he said the primary concern is that the case clusters in several countries "increasingly support the hypothesis that when there is close contact, this novel coronavirus can transmit from person to person.”
“We know this virus has infected people since 2012, but we don’t know where this virus lives,” WHO said in a statement. “We know that when people get infected, many of them develop severe pneumonia. … We also know that most of the persons who have been infected so far have been older men, often with other medical conditions.”
“What we don’t know is how often people might develop mild disease,” said the WHO statement.
“We are not sure why we are seeing this pattern and if it will change over time.”
Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is caused by SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV). During a November 2002 to July 2003 outbreak of SARS, there were 8,000 infections and 774 deaths. By the end of July 2003, there were no new reports of the virus and the global outbreak was considered over.
Increasing awareness of the disease appears to be key.
“The most important ones are the need for countries, both inside and outside of the region, to increase their levels of awareness among all people but especially among staff working in their health systems and to increase their levels of surveillance about this new infection,” said WHO.
The organization noted that Saudi Arabia was taking the outbreak very seriously. “The Ministry of Health has initiated crucial public health actions — including intensifying surveillance, initiating investigations and important research and putting control measures in place,” WHO said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows there have been no cases of any American contracting novel coronavirus.
According to the CDC, “Most people who got infected with the novel coronavirus developed severe acute respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Only two people experienced a mild respiratory illness.”