Global Alert and Response (GAR)

Frequently Asked Questions on novel coronavirus


28 September 2012

What is the novel coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which are known to cause illness in humans and animals. This novel strain has never previously been detected in humans or animals.

How many cases have been confirmed of the novel coronavirus?

As of 28 September 2012, two cases have been confirmed. The two cases are a Saudi Arabian national who died in June this year, and a Qatari national with travel history to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Qatari national was flown to the UK on 11 September where he is currently in hospital.

There are reports that the recently identified novel coronavirus is like SARS. Is this correct?

The novel coronavirus is genetically quite distinct from SARS. At the moment, there has been no evidence yet that the novel coronavirus has been transmitted from person to person. However, follow-up of contacts of the infected persons is underway, and, when complete, will give a clearer picture.

What are the symptoms?

In the two confirmed cases, the symptoms have been acute, serious respiratory illness who presented with fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties.

How could I become infected with this virus?

From the limited information available so far, there is no evidence of person to person transmission. WHO, national authorities and partners are conducting investigations to ascertain how transmission occurs, including collaboration with animal health partners to investigate the possibility of transmission from animals.

How widespread is this?

So far, there have been only 2 cases detected, linked to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Nevertheless enhanced surveillance and ongoing investigations may lead to the identification of new cases, including mild cases, and new geographical areas.

How will new cases be identified?

WHO has issued an interim case definition which will allow doctors and other health care workers to find new cases. This case definition will be updated as more information becomes available. The case definition includes criteria for identifying a ‘patient under investigation’, a ‘probable case’ and a ‘confirmed case’. These criteria rely on clinical, epidemiological and laboratory information.

Are health workers at risk from the novel coronavirus?

So far there is no evidence of the virus being passed from person to person including health care workers. WHO recommends that health care workers employ the same infection control measures as for other acute respiratory infections.

Is there a vaccine for the novel coronavirus?

There is no vaccine currently available.

Has WHO recommended any travel or trade restrictions related to this new virus?

WHO does not recommend that any travel or trade restrictions are applied with respect to this event. WHO will continue to provide updated information as it receives it.

WHO is working closely with Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as in previous years, to support the country’s health measures for all visitors participating in the Haji pilgrimage to Mecca in October.

What is WHO doing?

WHO has provided detailed information - under the International Health Regulations – to Member States. WHO has initiated contact with involved countries and international partners in order to better understand the risk this virus poses to public health. WHO has been leading the coordination and providing guidance to health authorities and technical health agencies. Guidance and support for laboratory diagnostics will be provided.

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