New killer virus making its way to Europe
Several countries in the Middle East have been affected by a new coronavirus that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has dubbed ‘MERS-CoV’ – Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus. Cases have also now been reported by three countries in Europe: France, Germany and Britain, prompting Danish health authorities to warn healthcare workers to be on the alert.
According to the Danish health authorities, Sundhedsstyrelsen, the fatality rate of MERS-CoV is nearly 50 percent.
Thus far, all of the European cases have had a direct or indirect connection to the Middle East, according to the WHO. The WHO warned hospitals in Europe to be on the lookout for cases coming in by air ambulance, saying the numbers of such patients may rise if patients in affected countries are afraid to seek care in their own hospitals.
Since last September, the WHO says it has been informed of a global total of 40 confirmed cases of the virus that have resulted in 20 deaths. The virus has been responsible for 16 deaths in Saudi Arabia alone.
The virus is similar to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which triggered a scare ten years ago when it erupted in east Asia, leaping to humans from animal hosts and eventually killing some 800 people.
The WHO said that there are now concerns that MERS-CoV may be spreading from person to person. The virus has an incubation period of up to ten days, after which, similar to SARS, sufferers exhibit severe flu-like symptoms. Thus far, the source of the virus has not been located, but Sundhedsstyrelsen reports that it has genetic similarities to an infection found in bats and other animals.
Sundhedsstyrelsen has warned travellers to the Arabian Peninsula and nearby countries to exercise good hygiene and avoid close contact with animals and animal saliva and faeces.
The virus has been a major topic among the health leaders from around the world gathered in Geneva for the World Health Assembly, the annual general meeting of the WHO, this week. The WHO has issued a statement calling for urgent investigations to find the source of the virus and how it is infecting people. It also reminded countries they have a duty to the international community to rapidly report cases and related information to the WHO.