WHO Visits Saudi Arabia to Investigate Coronavirus Cases

Two World Health Organization employees travelled to Saudi Arabia on May 8 to meet with local health officials on the novel coronavirus, after an outbreak at a hospital there.

The WHO trip was in addition to a visit by international scientists who were invited by the country, Gregory Hartl, a WHO spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement today.

“The purpose of the WHO mission is to better understand the situation and to provide guidance,” Hartl said. “The WHO team may meet with some of the international scientists, but will primarily hold discussions with the Ministry of Health.”

Saudi Arabia reported two more confirmed cases of the virus, in a 48-year-old man and a 58-year-old man, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 15, the Geneva-based WHO said yesterday. Both patients are linked to an outbreak this month in a health-care facility, and Saudi officials are investigating, the health agency said. Thirty-three people worldwide are known to have been sickened by the virus since September, and 18 of them have died, the WHO said.

There hasn’t been any evidence yet of sustained transmission of the new coronavirus, Hartl said. Limited human-to-human infection probably occurred previously in Saudi Arabia as well as in the U.K., where three members of a family were diagnosed with the illness in February.

Limited Transmission

“We know of at least two instances -- a previous event in Saudi Arabia and the event in the U.K. -- where there was likely limited human-to-human transmission, but as of this moment there has not been any sustained, community-level spread,” he said. “What we know today may not apply tomorrow, as this is a rapidly evolving event.”

France reported its first confirmed case of the infection this week. The patient had traveled to the Middle East, where the first cases of the virus were reported last year, according to the World Health Organization. Her roommate, doctor and a nurse have been hospitalized for tests in Valenciennes, in northern France, France Info reported on its website.

Coronaviruses are a family of pathogens that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, which sickened more than 8,000 people and killed 774 in 2002 and 2003, according to the WHO. While the new virus is related to the one that causes SARS, it appears far less transmissible, the WHO has said.

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