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Novel Coronavirus

What is novel coronavirus?
Novel coronavirus is a newly identified – or novel – virus associated with living in or traveling to the Middle East*, especially Saudi Arabia.

Why is novel coronavirus in the news?
Since April 2012, there have been a number of cases of an illness associated with this virus among people living in or traveling to the Middle East⃰.  As of May 23, 2013, 43 laboratory-confirmed cases have been reported to the World Health Organization: 31 from Saudi Arabia, two from Qatar, two from Jordan, three from the United Kingdom, two from France, two from Tunisia and one from the United Arab Emirates.

The onset of illness has ranged between April 2012 and May 2013. Among the 43 cases, 21 were fatal. Some were reported as having a mild respiratory illness. No cases have been identified in the United States.

What are coronaviruses?
They are a group of viruses that can cause respiratory infections in humans and animals. Most cause mild to moderate upper respiratory infections (such as the common cold), but occasionally they can cause severe pneumonia, especially in the elderly or people with heart and lung disease.

Human coronaviruses were first identified in the mid 1960s and are named for the crown-like projections on the surface of the virus.

The novel coronavirus associated with the Middle East⃰ is different from other coronaviruses that previously have been reported.

Is the new coronavirus similar to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)? 
SARS was also caused by a coronavirus, but the novel coronavirus in the Middle East is not the SARS virus. The SARS virus emerged in 2003 in Asia and caused a global outbreak that lasted about nine months and caused illness in more than 8,000 people worldwide and more than 700 deaths. There have been no cases of SARS since 2004.

How is novel coronavirus spread?
Like other common respiratory infections, coronaviruses are usually spread through coughing, sneezing, or close contact, such as touching hands with an infected person who has not washed his or her hands after coughing.

It is not yet known how novel coronavirus is spread, or whether some of the initial cases were caused by exposure to an infected animal or bat. There have only been a few cases to date, where patients with this novel coronavirus likely spread the infection to others. Clusters have been reported in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Kingdom, and France, and are being investigated to determine how easily this new virus is spread.

How contagious is it?
Right now, there is not a lot of information to know for sure.  For all the known cases, there has been very limited evidence of person-to-person transmission. If it were very contagious, many more cases would likely have been reported.

Most coronaviruses will only survive around 24 hours in the environment. Most common detergents and cleaning agents will kill the virus.

What are the main symptoms of novel coronavirus?
The virus has only been identified in a small number of people so there is not a lot of information yet.  Most developed a serious respiratory illness with fever, cough, shortness of breath, and difficulty breathing. Others had a mild respiratory illness. 

How is it treated?
There is no specific treatment at this time. People with severe symptoms or who require hospitalization should receive standard medical support.

Where did the virus come from?
The origin is unclear, but testing suggests it is related to coronaviruses found in bats.

Is there a vaccine for this coronavirus?
No, a vaccine is not available.

Is there a laboratory test?
Yes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has developed a test to detect the virus. Clinicians and laboratories are instructed to rule out infection from other respiratory viruses first using standard laboratory tests. The New York City Health Department’s Public Health Laboratory has the ability to test for the virus.

What should I do if I am planning to travel to the Middle East*?
Since there have been only a small number of confirmed cases worldwide, there is no advisory against travel to the Middle East⃰. Travel advice may change if additional cases occur or when the patterns of transmission become clearer.

If I visited the Middle East* and have signs of a cold/fever, should I be worried?
If the symptoms are mild, they are probably due to a common respiratory virus, such as the common cold. However, if the symptoms worsen and you get very sick and/or short of breath, you should contact your doctor or go to the nearest emergency department for care.  When you see the doctor, tell him or her you have recently returned from the Middle East⃰. Even with severe respiratory illness, it still is most likely the diagnosis will be a more common respiratory virus, rather than the novel coronavirus.

What is New York City doing to address the threat of novel coronavirus?
The Health Department is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others to inform New York City health care providers about this novel coronavirus to ensure early diagnosis and patients are appropriately managed. The Department’s Public Health Laboratory can test specimens from people suspected of having this infection.

Where can I get more information
For more information, visit:

* Countries considered in the Middle East or Arab Peninsula include Bahrain, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestinian territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Yemen.