Written by Matt Bigcock, CNN Written by Matt Bigcock, CNN
If the past 18 months have taught us anything, it's that the scourge of the Mediterranean is increasingly targeting travel health tourism. On Tuesday it was confirmed that a new coronavirus, which has killed at least one person in Germany and one in Denmark and infected 15 others in Italy, is behind the recent outbreak.
The new virus was identified in June 2018, when the virus' characteristics were described in the medical journal The Lancet. Concern has been heightened in Italy because of the outbreak of MERS -- which is officially called the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome -- in 2016, as well as the 2016 outbreak of Japanese encephalitis in Europe that left dozens of people dead. It is estimated that annual outbreaks in this region account for almost a million cases.
Nick Phin was a student at Edinburgh University when he became ill in 2015. While he's relieved not to have the MERS virus, he warned against the potentially deadly consequence of not having traveled -- particularly if leaving the EU -- in his latest CNN column.
"Traveling has always been a vital part of my life. Without that to get me to places I wouldn't be able to visit, I wouldn't be the person I am today," he writes.
How the killer virus makes its way to the UK
So what's causing the rise in cases of the new coronavirus? Common sense would suggest either there's a connection to animal-to-human transmission, or it's related to a region's usual infected travel trends.
However, when contacted, both the Italian Health Ministry and the World Health Organization stated there was no existing scientific evidence of the new virus being responsible for the spread of the illness.
There's still no scientific consensus of what is causing the "suspected human-to-human transmission" of the new coronavirus, explains Dr Peter Bennie, who has previously worked for the health authorities in two countries impacted by the virus.
The NHS advises, "There is no evidence to suggest that the virus is spreading from person to person."
But what do the experts predict?
Is it connected to bird flu?
"I don't think it's a major public health issue in the near future. There's nothing likely to happen for the next two or three years -- no epidemic is going to happen," says Dr Carmelo Esposito, a clinical microbiologist with the London Ambulance Service.
"The investigation we're doing now is based around whether we can discover some of the genes that allow the virus to spread to other people -- 'us' being all of us."
Is it linked to bird flu?
"It's likely, but to go and to assume that one is the same is a bit ridiculous at this stage," says Bennie. "Possible, but not probable."
And if it's related to bird flu, does this mean it should concern us all?
In the UK, when the most recent bird flu outbreaks happened, around five months ago, public health authorities and experts believed that the risk was relatively low. So for now, is there no increased public health risk?
Bennie explained that it's quite common that viruses that are most contagious to humans can also be most contagious to other animals. For example, influenza A viruses -- which caused the H1N1 outbreak that hit the world in 2009 -- has been reported to be transmitted from animals to humans. The same also seems to be true for the MERS virus.
"These viruses are known to be able to infect another animal, pass on from that animal to a human, and from that human, to other humans," he said.