The World Health Organisation (WHO) has confirmed that the potentially fatal coronavirus could be transmitted from person to person. WHO Assistant Director-General, Keiji Fukuda speaking to reporters during a trip to Saudi Arabia where the majority of cases are found, noted that the clusters of illnesses “increasingly supports the hypothesis” of close contact human transmission.
The news comes as a second case is reported in France. The new infection was discovered in a patient who had shared a room at a hospital in Valenciennes with the first confirmed sufferer. The two were said to be in close and prolonged contact.
The SARS-like virus, produces symptoms of pneumonia and can lead to kidney failure. Experts are looking at whether it is transmitted via contact or whether it is airborne.
Professor Benoit Guéry at the Lille Hospital Infection Unit said that there were, “Several incidences where a clear human to human transmission was possible.” Though he played down the risk adding that , “As soon as we are capable of dealing with patients in the appropriate manner, the virus poses a very low risk (of transmission).”
Though the virus poses a low transmission risk at present, the chances of survival are slim. Medical experts report that once contracted the new coronavirus is more aggressive than SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) which killed around 800 people in 2003.
Two more carriers have died in Saudi Arabia where the virus was first discovered, putting the death toll to 18 with 34 cases worldwide.
With a survival rate of less than 50%, authorities are taking the threat seriously. French travelers to the Gulf are being advised to wash their hands regularly and avoid contact with animals. Anyone returning from the region with flu-like symptoms has been asked to report it immediately.