BRUSSELS, Belgium — French health officials fear at least four people in France may be infected with a SARS-like virus that has killed 18 people.
France confirmed its first case of the virus on Thursday, in a man who became ill after returning from a trip to Dubai from April 19 to 17.
Medical staff said he has been in isolation at a hospital in Douai in northern France since April 23.
By midday Friday, health officials were reporting three suspected cases of the new coronavirus, known as CoV-EMC.
Symptoms of the virus have been found on two health workers from hospitals in the northern cities of Douai and Valenciennes, and a patient who shared a ward with the 65-year-old man who was first infected with the disease.
The French outbreak, which follows cases in Germany and Britain, is raising concerns that the deadly respiratory illness is breaking out of the Middle East, where it was first detected in September 2012.
However, French Health Minister Marisol Touraine said the outbreak is isolated and was imported into France from Dubai, where the infected man had been on vacation.
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Health officials are pointing out that although the CoV-EMC virus has a high mortality rate – 18 out of the 30 known cases have been fatal – it does not appear to spread quickly from human to human.
"Among 100 people who were in contact with the patient in the UK, only two were infected. That's a 2 percent transmission rate which is not too serious," Dr. Yasdan Yasdanpanah, head of the infectious disease unit of Paris' Bichat hospital, told Europe 1 radio.vYasdanpanah added that, for the moment, he saw no reason to advise against travel to the Arabian peninsula.
"It is somewhat reassuring that there are no detected expanding clusters of cases, chains of transmissions or SARS-like super-spreading events to date," said a risk assessment issued by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, after the discovery of cases in the UK back in February.
Rather less reassuringly, the ECDC acknowledged: "There is a lot more that we do not know than we know about this virus."
It is believed to be related to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which erupted in east Asia a decade ago and killed 774 people.
Paul Ames contributed to this report from Brussels.