Two health workers in Saudi Arabia have become infected with a potentially
fatal new SARS-like virus after catching it from patients in their care - the
first evidence of such transmission within a hospital, the World Health
The new virus, known as novel coronavirus, or nCoV, is from the same family
of viruses as those that cause common colds and the one that caused the deadly
outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) that emerged in Asia in
"This is the first time health care workers have been diagnosed with (novel
coronavirus) infection after exposure to patients," the Geneva-based UN health
agency said in a disease outbreak.
The health workers are a 45-year-old man, who became ill and is currently in
a critical condition, and a 43-year-old woman with a coexisting health
condition, who fell ill on May 8 and is in a stable condition, the WHO said. France has also reported a likely case of transmission within a hospital, but
this was from one patient to another patient who shared the same room for two
NCoV, like Sars and other similar viruses, can cause coughing, fever and
pneumonia. Scientists are on the alert for any sign that nCoV is mutating to
become easily transmissible to multiple recipients, like Sars - a scenario that
could trigger a pandemic.
WHO experts visiting Saudi Arabia to consult with the authorities on the
outbreak said it seemed likely the new virus could be passed between humans, but
only after prolonged, close contact.
Decrease the risk
Initial analysis by scientists at Britain's Health Protection Agency last
year found that nCoV's closest relatives were most probably bat viruses. Yet
further work by a research team in Germany suggests nCoV may have come through
an intermediary - possibly goats.
The WHO's update said that, while some health care workers in Jordan had
previously contracted nCoV, these Saudi cases were the first clear evidence of
the virus passing from infected patients.
"Health care facilities that provide care for patients with suspected nCoV
infection should take appropriate measures to decrease the risk of transmission
of the virus to other patients and health care workers," it said.
It also advised health care providers to be "vigilant among recent travellers
returning from areas affected by the virus" who develop severe acute respiratory
Since nCoV first emerged and was identified in September 2012, the WHO says
it has been informed of a total of 40 laboratory-confirmed cases worldwide,
including 20 deaths.
Saudi Arabia has had most of the cases - with 30 patients infected, 15 of
them fatally - but nCoV cases have also been reported in Jordan, Qatar, Britain,
Germany and France.