Lethal new SARS-like virus has infected 11 people
Five people have since died as scientists scramble to find source
An eleventh person has been identified as carrying a new, SARS-like virus, and doctors are scrambling to determine where and how the disease came into being. The latest case was discovered in a person living in the United Kingdom. Scientists say the virus was likely the result of human-to-human contact.
The source of the pathogen, a coronavirus that emerged as recently as April, hasn't yet been discovered. Cases in humans provide opportunities for the virus to mutate and become more easily transmissible among others, potentially setting off a pandemic like the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS that sickened more than 8,000 people, and killed 774 people between 2002 and 2003.
"The low number spread over a long period suggests that sporadic jumping from animals to human is the most likely explanation," Yuen Kwok-yung, chairman of infectious diseases at the University of Hong Kong's department of microbiology says.
Cases have been reported in Saudi Arabia, in areas around Jeddah and Riyadh, and in Jordan and Qatar. Genetic evidence indicates the virus is most closely related to a coronavirus found in bats.
That link suggests that bats would be "the most likely wildlife reservoir," John Mackenzie, a Melbourne-based virologist says. "Challenges exist about gaining the wildlife samples to explore which might be carrying the virus," he said.
"It's important to know the source so at least you have some indication of what the risks are and to what extent that risk exists," Mackenzie says, who is also an honorary professor of microbiology at the University of Queensland. "The evidence now suggests that the chances of an outbreak like SARS are unlikely - - it doesn't seem to transmit that readily."
Of the 11 confirmed cases of human infection since April of last year, five have been fatal. The latest case is being treated in an intensive care unit, WHO said in a statement.
"The fact there are still new cases occurring is a concern because pathogens can change and emerge genetically to become more transmissible over time," Raina MacIntyre, professor of infectious diseases epidemiology at the University of New South Wales says. "If human-to-human transmission is occurring, another possible explanation could be that there are many more undetected cases."
© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM
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