PARIS-France has confirmed a second case of a deadly new respiratory virus related to SARS, authorities said Sunday, as they increased efforts to inform the public about how to avoid the illness and watch for its signs.
Meanwhile, World Health Organisation (WHO) officials said on Sunday it seemed likely the new coronavirus that has killed at least 18 people in the Middle East and Europe could be passed between humans, but only after prolonged contact, Reuters reports.
WHO Assistant Director-General Keiji Fukuda told reporters in Saudi Arabia, the site of the largest cluster of infections, 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.
But he added: "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."
A hospital roommate of the 65-year-old man in France who initially contracted the virus tested positive for the illness. The second patient's condition has deteriorated, requiring treatment in intensive care, Health Minister Marisol Touraine said at a news conference. The minister added that the first patient is "in a stable but worrisome situation."
Touraine said pamphlets listing precautionary measures and potential signs of illness will be available at French airports for travelers, especially those visiting the Arabian Peninsula, where many cases of the virus have been reported.
The novel coronavirus has killed 18 people since being identified last year, out of more than 30 confirmed cases reported to the World Health Organization since September 2012. The first France patient had just returned from vacationing in Dubai on an organized tour when he fell ill.
The initial France patient shared a room with the second patient for a few days in late April at a hospital in Valenciennes. Now both are being treated at the Lille Hospital in northern France. Four other suspected cases, all people who had contact with the initial patient, were false alarms, officials said.
Most of those infected since the virus was identified had traveled to Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan or Pakistan. There also have been cases in Britain and Germany.
The novel coronavirus is related to SARS, which killed some 800 people in a global epidemic in 2003, and belongs to a family of viruses that most often causes the common cold.
The virus is most closely related to a bat virus and scientists are also considering whether bats or animals such as camels or goats are a possible source of infection. Scientists are also considering whether fruit contaminated by animal droppings may have spread the virus.
A pamphlet advising travelers on measures to avoid getting sick, such as frequently washing hands or avoiding animals, is being made available at French airports. The pamphlets also list worrisome symptoms to watch for, such as fever.
Arnaud Fontanet of the Pasteur Institute, which is doing the testing for the virus in France, said at the news conference that the respiratory tract appears to be a dominant mode of transmission.
Officials are trying to track down all people who had contact with the second patient in France as well as all those who traveled to Dubai on an organized tour with the man initially diagnosed with the virus.
"Professionals, doctors, consider that there is no need for excessive worry, but once again we should be vigilant," the health minister said. "I am repeating: Nothing is being left to chance."
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