The patient, who died in a London hospital on Feb. 17, may have been infected by a family member who had traveled to the Middle East.
The virus, which was discovered in Saudi Arabia last September, is simply known as “novel coronavirus,” or NCoV for short.
Related to viruses found in bats, NCoV is known to have infected at least 12 people around the world so far, half of whom have died.
NCoV belongs to the same broad family of viruses as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
In the early 2000s, SARS killed roughly 800 people around the world and triggered a worldwide health scare. The symptoms of both NVoC and SARS include fever, coughing and respiratory difficulties.
While the World Heath Organization has called upon governments around the world to take steps to prevent the spread of NVoC, infectious disease experts are also urging the public not to panic.
Even with two confirmed cases in which NCoV was spread from one human to another, person-to-person transmission is still thought to be unlikely in most cases.
“There’s no evidence that this virus is easily spread, say, across a room,” says Dr. Susan Gerber, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control. “People shouldn’t freak out.”
Photo: National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases