GENEVA – Two Saudi Arabian health workers have contracted the deadly coronavirus from patients, marking the first evidence of transmission in a hospital setting, the World Health Organization said Wednesday.
“This is the first time health care workers have been diagnosed with nCoV (novel coronavirus) infection after exposure to patients,” the WHO said.
The two were among six new cases announced by the Saudi Health Ministry on Tuesday.
The U.N.’s health body said that while other health care workers had contracted the deadly disease in Jordan, there had until now not been clear evidence that they had been infected by patients carrying the virus.
“This is the first time we have pretty hard-and-fast evidence of it,” WHO spokesman Gregory Haertl said.
“Health care facilities that provide care for patients with suspected nCoV infection should take appropriate measures to decrease the risk of transmission of the virus to other patients and health care workers,” the agency said.
WHO said one of the new patients with laboratory-confirmed nCoV was a 45-year-old man who became ill on May 2 and is now in critical condition.
The second patient was a 43-year-old woman with a coexisting health condition who became ill on May 8 and is in stable condition.
Since last September, WHO says it has been informed of a global total of 40 laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus, including 20 deaths.
While the virus has been deadliest in Saudi Arabia, which counts 30 infections, half of them fatal, cases have also been reported in Jordan, Qatar, Germany, Britain and France, where two patients are now hospitalized in the northern city of Lille.
Experts have suggested calling the new virus Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), but officials have not signed off on that yet.