Recent lab testing by the WHO confirmed two more deaths from coronavirus infections that occurred in Jordan in April 2012. These cases bring the coronavirus death toll to five deaths out of nine identified cases worldwide.
Previously, the disease had only been identified in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The WHO assisted in testing stored samples at the request of Jordan’s government. Officials were not able to test for this type of coronavirus when the deaths occurred because this strain had not yet been identified.
The coronavirus family primarily infects the upper respiratory system. These viruses, named for the crown-like spikes on their surface, can be carried by several types of animals as well as humans.
Experts currently believe this particular type of coronavirus is not transmissible from person to person. It is possible that these cases were transmitted from contact with bats. However, the emergence of more cases in a new country suggests human transmission may have occurred.
The Disease Daily has reported on earlier cases of this novel coronavirus in Saudi Arabia. The first case was identified in the UK, but it is believed this patient became infected while traveling in Saudi Arabia.
Symptoms of coronaviruses include coughing, difficulty breathing, and congestion. In this strain, some patients have also experienced renal failure. There are no vaccines or specific treatment available for these infections.
The severity of coronavirus infection varies greatly depending on the particular virus within this family. Because some types of the common cold are coronaviruses, it is believed that most people will be infected with a coronavirus at some point in their lifetime. Another type of coronavirus, SARS, killed about 800 people in an outbreak in 2002. This strain was particularly infectious because it was contagious from person to person.
As journalists Richard Knox and Helen Branswell suggest in their writings for NPR and Scientific American, there is still much to learn about this coronavirus. To make statements about its severity now would be premature. Branswell notes that the WHO is "cast[ing] a wider net," in its search for other novel coronavirus cases outside of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan. Knox questions the possibility of person-to-person spread among the cases and what that could mean. Both wonder if this virus is completely new or if it has been affecting us for years, and has simply been misdiagnosed. Either way, it is clear that research scientists and doctors have their work cut out for them