France Reports First Death From Coronavirus, WHO Raises Global Concerns
May 29, 2013

France Reports First Death From Coronavirus, WHO Raises Global Concerns

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

Three weeks after French health officials reported the first case of novel coronavirus (nCoV) showing up in France, the man who contracted the disease while on a recent trip to the Middle East has died, according to the country´s Health Ministry.

The 65-year-old man becomes the 24th person to succumb to the stranglehold of nCoV. He is the third confirmed death from the virus in Europe; the others occurring in Britain and Germany. A spokesman for the Directorate General for Health said the man died on May 28, more than a month after being hospitalized from digestion problems shortly after returning from a nine-day trip to the Middle East.

Another man in France who shared a hospital room with the former for three days was later diagnosed with the nCoV virus as well, sparking fears that the disease, which had initially leapfrogged from animals to humans, was now spreading between humans. The second man, who is in his 50s, has been hospitalized since May 9 and has since been isolated. He remains in “serious but stable condition,” according to officials.

French Health Minister Marisol Touraine expressed sadness over the death of the Frenchman. He also said in a statement to the AFP: “Authorities remain on alert but ... there is no new situation in our country regarding the epidemic.”

The virus, which is similar to SARS, appears to cause an infection deep in the lungs, leading to coughing and breathing difficulties. But unlike SARS, nCoV also causes rapid kidney failure.

The virus, which has previously gone by the name nCoV-EMC, has now been redubbed Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV).

As the virus continues to spread, the World Health Organization (WHO) is upping its involvement. Previously only taking a monitory stance, the WHO is now looking to respond to the health crisis that is sweeping through the Middle East like wildfire.

At the sixty-sixth annual World Health Assembly conference on Monday, Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the WHO, sounded the alarm over the Middle Eastern virus, calling it a “threat to the entire world.”

“Looking at the overall global situation, my greatest concern right now is the novel coronavirus. We understand too little about this virus when viewed against the magnitude of its potential threat. Any new disease that is emerging faster than our understanding is never under control,” Dr Chan said. “These are alarm bells and we must respond. The novel coronavirus is not a problem that any single affected country can keep to itself or manage all by itself. The novel coronavirus is a threat to the entire world.”

The virus has so far infected 49 people and has killed 27, a mortality rate of about 55 percent. To try and combat the growing number of cases, researchers have been looking to develop a vaccine. However, Dutch scientists may hamper that progress after taking an unusual step to patent the killer virus.

Erasmus Medical Center researchers Albert Osterhaus and Ron Fouchier were among the first to receive a sample of the virus from a Saudi physician who was stumped by the first known case, reports New York Daily News.

Shortly after receiving the sample, the Dutch scientists patented it, angering the WHO and Saudi officials, who said such a selfish move has likely impeded critical research for a viable treatment option. With a patent in hand, the Dutch team may now control the research into the virus and possible drugs to treat it.

Chan, outraged by the move, said in Monday´s speech: “Making deals between scientists because they want to take out IP and be the first to publish in scientific journals, we cannot allow that. No intellectual property should stand in the way of you protecting your people.”

The Dutch researchers said they patented the virus in order to get drug companies to take interest in developing a vaccine and are denying that they are keeping the virus all to themselves.

“We´re still sharing this virus with everyone who wants to do public health research,” Osterhaus told Bloomberg´s Simeon Bennett last week.

As cases continue to climb and spread beyond the Middle East, health experts are struggling to pinpoint the main cause of the virus. It is similar to one found in bats, but experts have speculated this particular strain may have derived from camels or goats. A source will likely be needed before any real effective treatment can be produced to protect against infection from MERS-CoV.

“We do not know where the virus hides in nature,” Chan said. “We do not know how people are getting infected. Until we answer these questions, we are empty-handed when it comes to prevention.”

The WHO is now calling for the world to come together, pool its resources and tackle this virus head-on.

Prof. Ian Jones, a virologist at University of Reading, has taken a stance to play down the fears of human-to-human infection from MERS-CoV.

"Apart from the unusual circumstances of very close containment with already hospitalized persons, it does not seem to transfer among people," he told AFP. "As a result, the overall risk remains very low and the most pressing need is to identify where the virus is coming from so that these occasional infections can be prevented."

Since the virus was first reported last September, cases have surfaced in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Germany, France and the United Kingdom.