France Confirms Second SARS Related Case

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Health Authorities in France has confirmed a second case of a deadly new respiratory virus related to SARS, as they increase efforts to inform the public about how to avoid the illness and watch for its signs.

Health Minister Marisol Touraine spoke at a news conference and confirmed that the hospital roommate of the 65-year-old man who initially contracted the virus had tested positive for the illness. The second patient’s condition has worsened, requiring treatment in intensive care. The minister also related that the first patient is “in a stable but worrisome situation.”

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

The novel coronavirus has killed 18 people since being identified last year, out of the more than 30 confirmed cases reported to the World Health Organization since September 2012. The first French patient had just returned from vacationing in Dubai on an organized tour when he fell ill.

The first patient shared a room with the second patient for a few days in late April at a hospital in Valenciennes. Now they are both being treated at the Lille Hospital in northern France. Four other suspected cases that dealt with people who had contact with the first patient, were false alarms, officials said.

Most of those infected since the virus was identified had traveled to Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan or Pakistan. 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 virus is most closely related to a bat virus and scientists are also considering whether bats or animals such as camels or goats are a possible source of infection. Scientists are also considering whether fruit contaminated by animal droppings may have spread the virus.

A pamphlet that will advise travelers on measures to avoid catching the virus; such as frequently washing hands or avoiding animals, will be made available at French airports. The pamphlets will also list worrisome symptoms to watch for, such as fever.

The Pasteur Institute, which is doing the testing for the virus in France, revealed at the news conference that the respiratory tract appeared to be the dominant mode of transmission. Officials are now trying to track down all people who had contact with the second patient in France as well as all those who had traveled to Dubai with the same organized tour as the man initially diagnosed with the virus.

Health Minister Marisol Touraine stressed at the conference that healthcare professionals and doctors feel that there is no need for excessive worry, but once again we should be vigilant. He also said, “I am repeating: Nothing is being left to chance.”

But the World Health Organisation (WHO) has expressed concern at the apparent ability of the virus to pass from person to person as two more people in Saudi Arabia are also reported to have died from the virus, according to health officials. That pushes the number of fatalities to nine in the most recent outbreak in al-Ahsa governorate in the east of Saudi Arabia.

Novel coronavirus (NCoV) is known to cause pneumonia and sometimes kidney failure.

World Health Organization (WHO) officials have expressed concern over the clusters of cases of the new coronavirus strain and the potential for it to spread. Since 2012, there have been 33 confirmed cases across Europe and the Middle East, with 18 deaths, according to a recent WHO update.

Cases have been detected in Saudi Arabia and Jordan and have spread to Germany, France and the UK where in February, a patient died in a hospital in Birmingham, England after three members of the same family became infected. It is thought a family member had picked up the virus while travelling to the Middle East and Pakistan.

The WHO said on Sunday that, “Of most concern… 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.”

WHO officials have not yet confirmed the details of the latest deaths and they cannot confirm whether this is a mutation of an existing virus or an infection in animals that has made the jump to humans.

By Michael Smith

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