The SARS-like virus recently named the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus or MERS-CoV, is a new, emerging virus that is distantly related to the virus that caused severe acute respiratory syndrome, the WHO officials said.
The first documented cases of MERS-CoV occurred in Jordan in early 2012. To date there has been a total of 55 cases worldwide confirmed by laboratory testing.
Of these, 40 cases occurred in Saudi Arabia, and the rest were reported from other countries in the Middle East, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates; from Tunisia in North Africa; and from France, Germany, Italy and Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Europe, officials said.
The overall number of cases is limited, but the virus causes death in about 60 percent of patients, officials said. So far, about 75 percent of the cases in Saudi Arabia were in men and most occurred in people with one or more major chronic conditions.
However, there are large gaps in the knowledge of health officials and although extensive work has been done and is ongoing, it should be remembered it often takes time for scientific investigations to produce results, WHO officials said.
International concern about these infections is high, because it is possible for this virus to move around the world. There were several examples where the virus moved from one country to another via travelers.
Consequently, all countries need to have healthcare workers prepared to diagnose, contain and treat MERS-CoV and it should be considered in treating unexplained cases of pneumonia. If any cases of MERS-CoV are found, they should be reported to WHO under the terms of the International Health Regulations, the WHO said.