In September 2012, WHO was alerted to the identification of a novel coronavirus in two patients from Saudi Arabia and Qatar who presented with symptoms of severe respiratory disease. Upon further investigation, a total of 9 cases, 5 of which were fatal, have been identified since April 2012 and reported to WHO under the International Health Regulations (IHR) in three countries, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan. This particular strain of coronavirus has not been previously identified in humans and the characterization of the full genome sequence of the virus indicates that it belongs to a novel species of coronavirus in the genus Betacoronavirus that is distinct from other known coronaviruses and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
Coronaviruses are a large family of RNA viruses capable of infecting humans and a number of animal species. In humans, coronaviruses may cause a range of illnesses, from the common cold to SARS. Currently, 4 coronaviruses are known to circulate in the human population, HCoV-229E, -OC43, NL63, and –HKU1, where they usually cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illness. Viruses of this family cause a number of animal diseases.
WHO/Europe will continue to provide input to all aspects of this response. In this way, more information on transmission, severity and clinical impact will be obtained and disseminated to Member States.