A new Sars-like virus discovered in humans could pose “a threat to the entire world”, the World Health Organisation warned this week.
The organisation believes the virus is “emerging faster than our understanding” after cases were reported in eight countries - including two in Britain. During an address to delegates gathered at the World Health Assembly in Geneva, director general Dr Margaret Chan said that this virus was now “her greatest concern”.
Dr Chan advised the world to pull together all of its resources to tackle the virus, warning that “alarm bells” must be responded to.
“The novel coronavirus is not a problem that any single affected country can keep to itself or manage all by itself”, she said. “The novel coronavirus is a threat to the entire world.”
The virus has been dubbed the Middle East respiratory symptom coronavirus, or MERS-CoV by the WHO because most of the patients who contracted it had visited the places such as Saudi Arabia. However, scientists have confirmed that the virus can be transmitted human to human.
The coronavirus has infected 44 people worldwide and experts are unsure as to what causes the virus or how it spreads. It has a similar molecular structure to the Sars virus that killed 774 people in 2003.
Like Sars, it causes respiratory problems in the patient, but unlike Sars, it can also induce life threatening kidney failure.
It was discovered by Dr. Ali Mohamed Zaki, a virologist at the Dr Soliman Fakeeh Hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in June last year when Dr Zaki was presented with a patient suffering from pneumonia and severe breathing difficulties. He realised the severity of this new virus and reported his findings to proMed, a website used to alert other medical professions and organisations about infectious diseases.
Since his discovery, 23 people have died after contracting the virus.
Infected patients often experience difficulty with breathing, coughing, severe respiratory illness and kidney failure if the virus progresses. Health workers are now being warned to stay vigilant for unexpected respiratory illnesses in people who may have recently visited regions in the Middle East.
Additional reporting by agencies