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The coronavirus that has infected two dozen people in Europe and three in the United States will have “a reasonable chance” of becoming a transmissible disease that will spread from human to human, says a new report.

The virus, which was identified in China in 2012, is the MERS-CoV coronavirus, a member of the coronavirus family. So far, it has infected at least 801 people in the Middle East, mostly in Saudi Arabia, and kills about one-third of those infected. At the same time, the virus has infected at least 24 people in Europe, with all but one of them dying.

The authors of the new report, whose findings are published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine journal, found that the virus, in animals, does not transmit from one species to another, as some have suggested. However, it does have a more efficient way of infecting people: We already know it can pass through closed nasal airways, and the authors are not sure about how it passes between people.

They write that this all might be due to “a coronavirus genetic modification.” They write, “only by investigating the occurrence of genetic alterations in the pathogen’s genome can we make a conclusive assessment about the ability of coronavirus to transmissibly move from person to person and its spread on humans.”

The authors’ report, however, was commissioned by the World Health Organization. In a statement provided to The New York Times, an official for the WHO emphasized that the paper is independent, and “does not represent WHO’s conclusions.”

So will the virus continue to evolve, and develop into a more effective way of spreading from person to person? Perhaps. The authors write that one possible mutation that, if found in the virus, could emerge is a receptor binding site “with a more robust capacity to recognize the protein CD4.”

If so, the fear would be that the virus would circulate more easily. But it is far from guaranteed.

In the meantime, the authors of the study urge “high vigilance for MERS-CoV in affected communities around the world,” adding, “improvements in individual and community protective measures may be required to forestall further widespread MERS-CoV transmission.”

SOURCE: New York Times | PHOTO CREDIT: Getty

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