No evidence of human-to-human transfer of new virus, says UN health agency

WHO Headquarters in Geneva. Photo: WHO

10 October 2012 – The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) said today there was “no evidence” of human-to-human transmission of a new virus that can cause acute respiratory infection and renal failure, and whose discovery in a second patient last month spurred the agency to issue a global alert.

“No new cases of infection with the ‘novel coronavirus’ have been reported since 22 September 2012,” WHO said in a news release, citing the date health officials in the United Kingdom confirmed the virus had infected a 49-year-old Qatari man, who had recently entered Saudi Arabia, where a 60-year-old man with the same virus died earlier this year.

“So far, after careful follow-up of close contacts of the two confirmed cases, and a heightened state of global surveillance, there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission of the virus,” WHO added.

The Geneva-based agency issued the alert a day after confirmation of the virus in the Qatari man, who had presented symptoms on 3 September – just days after visiting Saudi Arabia. He entered an intensive care unit in the Qatari capital, Doha, on 7 September, and was flown by air ambulance four days later to the UK, where the Health Protection Agency (HPA) conducted laboratory testing and confirmed the presence of the novel coronavirus, said WHO.

According to WHO, the Governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UK are continuing their work to “gain a better understanding of the disease and the likely source of infection.”

WHO is supporting those national authorities in their respective investigations, and has sent experts to Saudi Arabia and Qatar as part of an international team.

“These and future epidemiological and scientific studies will lead to a better understanding of the novel coronavirus,” WHO said.

The WHO alert called on health workers worldwide to report patients with acute respiratory infection. The agency is continuing to work with the ministries of health and other international partners to “coordinate actions for timely detection, rapid diagnosis and case management of infection caused by the novel coronavirus, should the need arise.”

WHO said the speed with which the international public health community discovered the cases of novel coronavirus, and in turn notified WHO under the International Health Regulations (2005), “demonstrates the value of having the appropriate systems and processes in place for early detection, risk assessment and dissemination of information in order to implement appropriate response.”


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