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WHO Says New SARS-like Virus "Can Transmit From Person-To-Person"

Update Date: May 13, 2013 10:30 AM EDT

Officials at the World Health Organization said on Sunday that it the new SARs-like coronavirus (NCoV) that has so far killed at least 18 people and infected 34 people in the Middle East and Europe could be passed between people in close contact.

The news comes after French health authorities confirmed that a second man had contracted the virus in a possible case of human-to-human transmission after sharing a hospital room with France's only other sufferer.

According to WHO, officials on Sunday also reported that two more people in Saudi Arabia have died from the virus.

The new virus causes pneumonia and sometimes kidney failure, and researchers still don't know where the coronavirus came from, how it's spreading, how widespread and how many people may be infected without showing any symptoms.

So far, cases have been detected in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, the U.K. and France, WHO said in a statement released on Sunday.

"The different clusters seen in multiple countries increasingly support the hypothesis that when there is close contact this novel coronavirus can transmit from person-to-person," the WHO said in the statement. "This pattern of person-to- person transmission has remained limited to some small clusters and so far, there is no evidence that this virus has the capacity to sustain generalized transmission in communities."

The second confirmed case in France was a 50-year-old man who had shared a hospital room with a 65-year-old man who had apparently contracted the virus on a trip to Dubai.

"Positive results [for the virus] have been confirmed for both patients," the French health ministry said, according to the BBC.  French officials said that both men are now being treated in isolation wards.

On Sunday the Saudi Ministry of Health also reported two more deaths from the coronavirus, bringing the number of fatalities to nine in the most recent outbreak in Al-Ahsa, where most of the countries 15 fatalities have been reported, according to Reuters.

The NCoV is part of a family of pathogens can cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARs), which sickened more than 8,000 people in 2003.  However, the WHO said that NCoV and SARs are "distinct" from each other, and NCoV appears to be far less transmissible than SARs.

"This new virus is NOT the SARS virus. They are distinct from each other. However, the fact that they are related has added to the world's concern," WHO said in a statement.

While the NCoV is known to cause respiratory infections in both humans and people, researchers still do not know whether the new coronoavirus it is a mutation of an existing virus or an infection in animals that has managed to also infect humans.

So far, most of the people who have been infected have been older men, often with other medical conditions, according to the WHO.

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