The United Nations' World Health Organization announced four new cases of novel coronavirus in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday (May 14), as a top French epidemiologist warned the disease, which probably originated in bats, was 'knocking at the door' of humans.
The cases, in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province, brings the total to 38 cases confirmed by lab tests of which 20 have resulted in death, WHO spokesman Glen Thomas told reporters in Geneva.
"We're continuing to monitor the situation closely and at the moment we don't advise any restriction or special screening at points of entry with regards to this event. Or trade or travel restrictions," he added.
An expert said the novel coronavirus resembled a strain that had been found in bats, who were the reservoir for the virus that caused an epidemic of Severe Acquired Respiratory Syndrome in 2003.
"This new coronavirus greatly resembles a coronavirus that had been identified in bats at a time when the virus was being studied in bats because it was the reservoir for SARS," epidemiologist Arnaud Fontanet told Reuters Television in an interview.
"A lot of viruses had been sequenced in bats. And when we looked at those sequences, we realized that the new coronavirus is very close to a bat coronavirus. But that does not tell us what the animal is, that allowed the passage to humans."
However, he said it was very unlikely that the virus went directly from bats to humans and added it was critical that the animal reservoir be found and isolated to prevent the spread of the disease.
Fortunately, he said, patients display symptoms before they become contagious, which allows them to be isolated before they can spread the disease. Even if they do spread it, evidence so far suggests that it can only be transmitted from human to human by very close contact.
But that does not mean the disease could not cause an epidemic.
"We are at the period where the virus is knocking at the door and trying to get into humans. Not really successfully, very limited transmissibility so far. But whether the virus will mutate one day. Or whether a special event with a highly contagious patient being in the presence of a large group of people would disseminate the virus and start a worldwide epidemic is what makes us worried today."
The new virus can cause coughing, fever and pneumonia.
Video Source: Reuters
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