Novel Coronavirus Spreads Among Humans

The Novel Coronavirus (nCoV) is fast emerging as a major public health challenge worldwide, as it becomes increasingly contagious.

The fear of the disease is now a major epidemic across the world as nations grapple with an infectious bug that has yet to be fully decoded. The World Health Organization (WHO), other health organizations and government bodies have no idea about the mechanism of transmission of the virus. From September 2012 to date, WHO has been informed of a global total of 38 laboratory confirmed cases of human infection with nCoV, including 20 deaths.

The nCoV infection started in the Middle East in 2012 following a man's death in Saudi Arabia. His symptoms appeared to be very similar to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) CoV infection, which first emerged in the Guangdong Province in southern China in November 2002.  A patient from Qatar was afflicted three months later, after a trip to Saudi Arabia. He was later treated in the UK. Lab tests confirmed that the patients were both infected with nCoV. Since then, nCoV infection has killed 18 people in the Middle East.

The nCoV infects the upper respiratory tract of birds and mammals, although they may also affect the gastrointestinal tract. They are quite common and are responsible for about one third of all common colds. The nCoV disrupts more human genes more aggressively and frequently compared with the SARS coronavirus, according to the WHO report. The nCoV is also associated with more deaths than SARS, its 50% death rate is a lot higher than the 9.5% rate during the 2002/2003 SARS pandemic that was responsible for the deaths of 774 out of 8,098 confirmed cases of human infection in 37 countries.

 "We know nCoV has infected people since 2012, but we don't know where this virus lives. We know that when people get infected, many of them develop severe pneumonia. What we don't know is how often people might develop mild disease," WHO reports quoted in the news reports online, saying that it is a relatively new coronavirus strain, with many unanswered questions.

Older men with existing medical conditions appear to be particularly vulnerable to nCoV infection. WHO warned that this trend may change over time. "Of most concern, however, 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.  This pattern of person-to- person transmission has remained limited to some small clusters and so far, there is no evidence that this virus has the capacity to sustain generalized transmission in communities," according to a WHO Press Release.

The Ministry of Health of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has invited the WHO experts to try and help them fully assess nCoV and management recommendations, according to reports online. WHO commended the Saudi Arabian government for its prompt and diligent surveillance system and control measures, that led to the identification of several cases in a short span of time. In fact, there are suggestion floating around that the nVoV should be renamed Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) as the number of cases rises to 26 as of today. Health Minister Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah said high temperature, cough and severe pneumonia affecting both lungs are the main symptoms of the disease.

The new coronavirus strain, nCoV, which was first spotted in the Gulf and has since spread to France, Britain and Germany. A second case of human-to-human transmission was detected in France.

WHO now encourages all Member States to continue their surveillance for severe acute respiratory infections (SARI) and to carefully review any unusual patterns. Health vigilance regarding recent travelers returning from areas affected by the virus who develop severe SARI is critical. Health officials need to obtain specimens from patients' lower respiratory tracts for diagnosis where possible. The WHO reminds clinicians that nCoV infection should be considered even with atypical signs and symptoms in patients who are significantly immune compromised.

The WHO has also reminded the Member States to promptly assess and notify WHO of any new case of infection with nCoV, along with information about potential exposures that may have resulted in infection and a description of the clinical course.

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