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WHO warns that deadly new virus could spread by personal contact

Coronavirus 8

PARIS, France, Wednesday May 15, 2013 – The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that it appears likely that the novel coronavirus, a deadly new respiratory virus related to Sars, can be passed between people in close contact.

The development follows France’s confirmation of a second case of the virus, as they increase efforts to inform the public about how to recognise and avoid the illness.

The virus is known to cause pneumonia and sometimes kidney failure.

The majority of those infected since the virus was identified had travelled 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 new virus has killed 18 people since being identified last year, out of more than 30 confirmed cases reported to the WHO since September 2012.

The first patient in France had just returned from vacationing in Dubai on an organised tour when he fell ill. He shared a room at a hospital in Valenciennes with another patient for a few days in late April and the roommate subsequently tested positive for the illness.

According to Health Minister Marisol Touraine, the second patient's condition has deteriorated, requiring treatment in intensive care. The minister added that the first patient is "in a stable but worrisome situation."

Touraine told the media that pamphlets listing precautionary measures and potential signs of illness will be available at French airports for travellers, especially those visiting the Arabian Peninsula, where many cases of the virus have been reported.

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."

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.

The virus is most closely related to a bat virus and scientists are also considering whether bats or animals such as goats or camels are a possible source of infection. Scientists are also considering whether fruit contaminated by animal droppings may have spread the virus.