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New coronavirus from Middle East infects French citizen

PARISA new virus of mysterious origin that has infected 30 people who had been in the Middle East has now come to France.

A 65-year-old Frenchman is hospitalized after contracting the country's first case of the deadly new respiratory virus that belongs to a family of viruses that includes the common cold and deadly SARS.

French health authorities said Wednesday they are trying to find anyone who might have been in contact with him to prevent it from spreading.

It's unclear how or where the man was infected with the new coronavirus, which has killed 18 people in four countries and raised international public health concerns since being identified last September in the Middle East. People infected with the respiratory virus may develop acute pneumonia and kidney failure.

The latest case involved a man who fell ill after returning from a trip to the United Arab Emirates, the Health Ministry said. He has been under isolation and medical surveillance at a hospital in Douai in northern France since April 23, and is receiving respiratory assistance and blood transfusions, said Jean-Yves Grall, the government health director.

Paris' Pasteur Institute analyzed the man's virus and confirmed that it is a novel coronavirus, the ministry announced Wednesday.

Since September 2012, the World Health Organization has been informed of 30 confirmed cases of the virus, and 18 of the patients have died, WHO said in a May 6 statement. Cases have been emerged in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the UAE, Qatar, Britain and Germany, and health officials have said the virus has likely already spread between people in some circumstances.

France's health minister, Marisol Touraine, said "this is an isolated case" in France but said authorities are "fully mobilized" to prevent the virus from spreading. Authorities are trying to reach anyone who was in contact with the patient before he was hospitalized, and a national hotline was established Wednesday for the public to call about the virus.

WHO has advised countries to test any people with unexplained pneumonia.

"Any virus that has the potential to develop into something that is highly transmissible between people, including the coronavirus, is a major concern," WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said.

At this time, there are no restrictions on travel or special screening requirements at ports of entry with regards to the infections, the WHO said Monday.

"We need to follow up on all possible routes of infection, i.e. animal to human, whether it's being spread in hospitals or from human-to-human," said Hartl.

Health authorities are trying to determine how humans are contracting and spreading the virus and how best to treat it. It does not appear to be as contagious as SARS, which killed 800 people in 2003, or the flu, but it has probably spread between people who had close contact. It seems to have spread among family members in Britain and in health workers in Jordan who were caring for patients, for example.

The new coronavirus is most closely related to a bat virus and scientists are considering whether bats or other animals like goats or camels are a possible source of infection.

"We still don't know the animal reservoir of this virus or the source of exposure," Hartl said. "We need a solid epidemiological investigation to nail down a common behavior between patients...All we can tell people at the moment is they should be very vigilant about their basic hygiene practices."

He said it's unclear whether there is something specific in the environment in the Middle Eastern countries where cases have been confirmed.

Thirteen cases have been reported in Saudi Arabia. In the most recent Saudi outbreak, the Health Ministry reported that seven people have died.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been monitoring cases of the new virus, telling U.S. doctors to report unexplained respiratory infections in patients who had traveled to or near the Middle East.

People who develop a severe respiratory illness within 10 days of traveling from the Arabian Peninsula or neighboring countries should see a doctor, the CDC said. Those countries include Bahrain, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestinian Territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

The U.S. health agency advised travelers to take preventive steps to reduce risk of getting sick, including washing their hands often with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if those are not available, avoiding close contact with sick people and keeping their hands away from their eyes, nose and mouth.