LONDON (AP) - Two respiratory viruses in different parts of the world have
captured the attention of global health officials - a novel coronavirus in
the Middle East and a new bird flu spreading in China.
Last week, the coronavirus related to SARS spread to France, where one
patient who probably caught the disease in Dubai infected his hospital
roommate. Officials are now trying to track down everyone who went on a tour
group holiday to Dubai with the first patient as well as all contacts of the
second patient. Since it was first spotted last year, the new coronavirus
has infected 34 people, killing 18 of them. Nearly all had some connection
to the Middle East.
The World Health Organization, however, says there is no reason to think the
virus is restricted to the Middle East and has advised health officials
worldwide to closely monitor any unusual respiratory cases.
At the same time, a new bird flu strain, H7N9, has been infecting people in
China since at least March, causing 32 deaths out of 131 known cases.
WHO, which is closely monitoring the viruses, says both have the potential
to cause a pandemic - a global epidemic - if they evolve into a form easily
spread between people. Hereís a crash course in what we know so far about
Q: How are humans getting infected by the new coronavirus?
A: Scientists donít exactly know. There is some suggestion the disease is
jumping directly from animals like camels or goats to humans, but officials
are also considering other sources, like a common environmental exposure.
The new coronavirus is most closely related to a bat virus, but itís
possible that bats are transmitting the disease via another source before
humans catch it.
Q: Can the new coronavirus be spread from human to human?
A: In some circumstances, yes. There have been clusters of the disease in
Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Britain and now France, where the virus has spread
from person-to-person. Most of those infected were in very close contact,
such as people taking care of a sick family member or health workers
treating patients. There is no evidence the virus is spreading easily
between people and all cases of human-to-human transmission have been
limited so far.
Q: How are people catching the bird flu H7N9?
A: Some studies suggest the new bird flu is jumping directly to people from
poultry at live bird markets. Cases have slowed down since Chinese
authorities began shutting down such markets. But itís unclear exactly what
kind of exposure is needed for humans to catch the virus and very few
animals have tested positive for it. Unlike the last bird flu strain to
cause global concern, H5N1, the new strain doesnít appear to make birds sick
and may be spreading silently in poultry populations.
Q: What precautions can people take against these new viruses?
A: WHO is not advising people to avoid traveling to the Middle East or China
but is urging people to practice good personal hygiene like regular
hand-washing. ďUntil we know how and where humans are contracting these two
diseases, we cannot control them,Ē said Gregory Hartl, WHO spokesman.
Q: Which virus should we be more worried about?
A: Itís impossible to know. ďWe really donít want to play the game of
predicting which virus will be more deadly than the other,Ē Hartl said. At
the moment, both are worrisome since so little is known about how they are
infecting humans and both appear to cause severe disease. ďAny virus that
has the ability to develop the capacity to spread from human to human is of
great concern to WHO,Ē he said.