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Deadly new virus sparks call for 'urgent actions' to prevent spread

There have been 33 confirmed cases of human infection since September last year, including 18 deaths.

Image: Petri dish image via Shutterstock

THE WORLD HEALTH Organisation (WHO) has called for urgent action to address the emergence of a new and deadly virus, related to the SARs virus.

In a statement issued yesterday, the organisation stressed that the novel coronavirus is distinct from SARs, despite the relation. However, it called for countries to increase their levels of awareness, particularly among health workers.

The virus first emerged in humans last year, with a total of 33 confirmed cases since September, including 18 deaths. More recently, two confirmed cases of human infection were reported in Saudi Arabia, linked to an outbreak in a healthcare facility.

The Saudi government is investigating the outbreak in which 15 people were infected and seven died.

Today WHO said that there are many gaps in its knowledge of the virus, though it does know that the when people get infected, many of them develop severe pneumonia and most of the people infected so far have been older men, often with other medical conditions.

However the organisation said it did not know where the virus lives, how often people might develop mild disease or why it is seeing a pattern of infection in older men.

WHO also said it has not established how people are becoming infected – whether from animals, other people,  contaminated surfaces etc. It said 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”.

Concern about the spread of the virus

“The greatest global concern, however, is about the potential for this new virus to spread,” WHO said in a statement. “This is partly because the virus has already caused severe disease in multiple countries, although in small numbers, and has persisted in the region since 2012.”

All countries have been called on to increase their level of awareness, especially among staff working in health systems, and to increase their levels of surveillance about the new infection.

“When new cases are found, as is likely, it is critical for countries to report these cases and related information urgently to WHO as required by the International Health Regulations because this is the basis for effective international alertness, preparedness and response,” the organisation said.

It also recommended countries assess their level of readiness if the virus should spread and said WHO is ready to assist them in these tasks.

Related: SARS-like virus kills 5 people in Saudi Arabia>
Read: China detains 12 for ‘false’ bird flu rumours>

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