Spread of SARS-like Virus Sparks Concern

Novel coronavirus infections hint at possible human to human transmission

(RxWiki News) Many people recall the days of the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak in Asia and the medical masks, fears and loss of life that resulted. Now concerns are rising regarding a similar disease that has been observed in Europe and the Middle East.

Health officials are reporting that the deadly virus, called the novel coronavirus (nCoV), is possibly spread from person-to person in situations with prolonged close contact.

"Cover your mouth when coughing."

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nCoV has been found in 34 confirmed cases since September 2012, 18 of which have resulted in deaths.

Saudi Arabia has experienced the bulk of the infections, with 15 confirmed cases and seven deaths. The Financial Times reported that several European infections have been identified in patients who had recently traveled to the Middle East.

A new French case has health authorities on alert for potential human-to-human transmission. The Financial Times reported the new patient was diagnosed with nCoV after sharing a hospital room with the first French patient.

According to the Financial Times, Keiji Fukuda, MD, Assistant Director-General of the WHO, told Saudi reporters there is no evidence so far that the virus can sustain “generalized transmission in communities.” 

However, Dr. Fukuda continued, “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.”

NCoV is in the same family as SARS, which caused hundreds of deaths in Asia during the early 2000s.

The WHO is encouraging health officials and governments to continue monitoring for severe acute respiratory infections (SARI) of all sorts, especially in people returning from travel to affected areas.

“Clinicians are reminded that nCoV infection should be considered even with atypical signs and symptoms in patients who are significantly immune compromised,” stressed the WHO.

The WHO reported that the new French case was discovered when contacts of the first French patient were screened for the virus. The WHO is conducting investigations in Saudi Arabia as well.

According to the Financial Times, Dr. Fukuda said that patients were responding to treatment, though vaccines or medications specifically for nCoV are not yet available.

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Review Date: 
May 13, 2013