New Virus Found In Middle East Travelers Poses Questions For Health Experts

Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that have a halo, or crown-like (corona) appearance when viewed under an electron microscope. [CDC]
A new virus has infected at least 12 people worldwide. What most of those infected have in common is that they lived or traveled to the Middle East — a common destination for some Houstonians. But so far, little is known about the virus.

The novel coronavirus, or NCoV, was discovered last September in the United Kingdom in a man from Qatar. Since then the World Health Organization has confirmed 12 cases going back to April. Three of those were found this month in Britain, all of which were part of the same family.

Coronaviruses are common viruses that most people get some time in their life and cause mild to moderate respiratory illnesses. One exception is SARS, which can cause severe illness and killed almost 800 people in 2002 and 2003.

Professor Susan Fisher-Hoch at the University of Texas School of Public Health says at this point it doesn’t look like the novel coronavirus could develop into an epidemic.

“This particular outbreak doesn’t look as bad as SARS because transmission is very low. By transmission I mean human-to-human spread.”

However, not much else is currently known about the virus. Of the 12 confirmed cases, five people have died. But Fisher-Hoch says there may be many more who have contracted the virus, but didn’t get very sick.

“When you first see an epidemic it always looks as though the mortality and severity are much more than they actually are because you only see the bad ones.”

All those who were infected either lived in the Middle East, traveled there or were in close contact with someone who did. That may be of concern for us here in Houston because many oil and gas companies have close connections to countries in the Middle East and people travel there frequently for business.

“It could happen but it’s very unlikely and I don’t think there will be many cases. So, you know, just do all the usual things you really ought to do to stop getting the flu. You know, good personal hygiene, wash your hands, and I really can’t say anything else.”

The World Health Organization urges testing for the novel coronavirus in patients with unexplained pneumonias or respiratory illnesses that are not responding to treatment.

 

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Florian Martin

Reporter/NewsLab Coordinator

Florian Martin is the KUHF NewsLab Coordinator. While guiding and overseeing interns, he works on his own stories and is always on call to cover breaking news and other media events...