The World Health Organisation has said that there is increasing evidence to suggest that the coronavirus can be passed between people in close contact, although it appears unlikely that the disease is generally contagious.
Assistant Director General at the WHO (World Health Organisation), Keiji Fukuda, said: “This pattern of person to person transmission has remained limited to small clusters and so far there is no evidence that this virus has the capacity to sustain generalised community transmission.”
Nevertheless, governments around the world are advising citizens to take extra care. Official advice includes frequent hand washing, and when travelling to affected areas, particularly Saudi Arabia, avoiding contact with animals and with humans displaying signs of the disease.
The virus causes flu-like symptoms and pneumonia and can lead to kidney failure. So far, there have been 18 confirmed deaths out of 33 confirmed cases in Saudi Arabia and Jordan spreading to Germany, the UK and France.
Coronavirus is related to the SARS virus and can affect both animals and humans.
What is the new virus?
The Novel Coronavirus (NCoV) that has been identified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) is a strain of coronavirus that has so far infected 34 people, 18 of whom have died since September 2012. Symptoms include fever, coughing, breathing difficulties, pneumonia and, in severe cases, kidney failure. NCoV has been detected in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Germany, the United Kingdom and France.
What is a coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause respiratory infections in humans and animals. They range from the common cold to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). The new virus, NCoV, is not SARS.
What is SARS?
An outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) was detected in 2003, having begun in China and other parts of south-east Asia before spreading to Europe and the Americas. Of around 8,000 known infections, 774 people died worldwide according to the WHO. There have been no known cases since 2004.
What are the risks of NCoV?
Much remains to be learnt about NCoV, including how it spreads and how to treat it. It is not thought to be very contagious but the WHO believes it may be passed from human to human via droplets in the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Although the virus, at this stage, seems unlikely to become a pandemic, health officials are concerned about its potential to evolve and spread. There is no known vaccine; people are advised to avoid close contact with others who show signs of common cold symptoms such as coughing and sneezing, and to maintain good hand hygiene with regular hand-washing.