In the list of suspect explanations for the new hemorrhagic fever that is sweeping the globe: food poisoning; Western handwashing. With one case blamed on H1N1 in Nigeria, and 20 confirmed cases across 20 countries, the source of the outbreak is known to one person: an airport janitor who contracted the virus as he sat at his post cleaning terminal 8 of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport. The epidemic is the most serious outbreak of this newest coronavirus, a form of coronavirus that caused an outbreak in Pakistan in 2014 that hospitalized at least 26 people.
But it would not be the only novel flu in which humans have been infected through their contact with another person’s body fluids, which doctors refer to as spontaneous infection. What makes the new outbreak even more likely, epidemiologists say, is that human contacts with the same flu virus have become more prevalent as the virus has expanded into more countries.
One expert suspects a similar pattern of spread in the current outbreak, but one that is probably more delicate and less deadly. “Flu is complicated; it’s not easy to predict,” said Ira Longini, a professor at the University of Chicago Medical Center and one of the nation’s leading flu experts. “It isn’t just that we’re importing people; we’re facilitating human disease in ways that potentially complicate these infectious diseases.”
The new virus is specific to humans, while some other known variants involve viruses known as NN2 and H7.
In an interview with Foreign Policy published Friday, Dr. Ala Alwan, director of the World Health Organization’s Department of Medical Emergencies, Strategy and Preparedness, said he thinks that the current outbreak “seems to be well handled,” even as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday that it had the first cases of the virus in continental Europe and that the WHO had called for more effective analysis and surveillance of the virus.