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New SARS-like virus can likely be spread person-to-person

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
May 12th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

A new coronavirus, similar to the one in the SARS epidemic has now killed at least 18 people in the Middle East and Europe - and the World Health Organization warns that the virus may be passed between humans -- but only after prolonged contact. A virus from the same family triggered the outbreak of SARS that swept the world after emerging in Asia, killing 775 people in 2003.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - French authorities announced this weekend that a second man had been diagnosed with the disease after sharing a hospital room with France's only other sufferer.

In Saudi Arabia, the site of the largest number of infections, WHO Assistant Director-General Keiji Fukuda told reporters that there was no evidence so far the virus was able to sustain "generalized transmission in communities" - a scenario that would raise the specter of a pandemic.

"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," he said.

"Close contact," according to one health official means being in the same small, enclosed space with an infected person for a prolonged period.

First reported in the Persian Gulf last year, deaths have also been recorded in Britain and France. All of the patients had recently been in the Middle East. A total of 34 cases worldwide have been confirmed by blood tests so far.

Saudi Deputy Health Minister for Public Health Ziad Memish confirmed that of the 15 cases in the most recent outbreak, in al-Ahsa district of Eastern Province, nine had died, two more than previously reported.

Saudi Arabia's Health Ministry said in a statement the country had had 24 confirmed cases since last summer, of whom 15 had died.

The first French patient was confirmed as suffering from the disease on Wednesday after travelling in the Gulf. The second patient was transferred to intensive care after the two men shared a room in a hospital in Lille.

Professor Benoit Guery, head of the Lille hospital's infectious diseases unit, suggests that airborne transmission of the virus was possible, though still unusual, and that the public "should not be concerned" as there had been only 34 cases globally in a year.

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