(CNN) — A new SARS-like virus recently found in humans continues to spread — with the worldwide total now at 49, the World Health Organization said Wednesday.
Of the 49 known infections with the MERS-CoV virus, 27 have resulted in death, the organization said.
The latest deaths were reported in Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi health ministry said Wednesday that three people died from their infections in the country’s eastern region.
The virus is “a threat to the entire world,” the WHO’s general director said Monday.
It “is not a problem that any single affected country can keep to itself or manage all by itself,” Margaret Chan said Monday in her closing remarks at the 66th World Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland.
Although many of the cases have occurred on the Arabian Peninsula, people have died of the infection elsewhere.
However, “all of the European cases have had a direct or indirect connection to the Middle East,” the WHO said earlier this month. But “in France and the United Kingdom, there has been limited local transmission among close contacts who had not been to the Middle East but had been in contact with a traveler recently returned from the Middle East.”
On Tuesday, a patient died in France after having contracted the virus during a trip to the Middle East, the WHO reported.
Coronaviruses cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, as well as a variety of animal diseases.
However, the new virus is not SARS.
The WHO recently gave it a more specific name: Middle East respiratory symptom coronavirus, or MERS-CoV.
It acts like a cold virus and attacks the respiratory system, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said. But symptoms, which include fever and a cough, are severe and can lead to pneumonia and kidney failure.
Health officials do not yet know much about how the virus spreads, which makes it hard for scientists to prevent infections, Chan said.
The WHO is calling for the world to pull together its resources to study and tackle the virus.
By Ben Brumfield
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