UNDATED (CNN) -- The World Health Organization is concerned about a new virus that it says could be a threat to the entire world. There are already 49 cases of this new strain of virus in eight countries.
Hollywood movies like "Contagion" are sobering reminders of the real threat of deadly viruses.
Reports of a new strain of a coronavirus overseas are nowhere near the movie version of an outbreak.
So far, there are no reported cases in the United States. Its name is the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus. The World Health Organization is calling it "a threat to the world". Gregory Hartl with WHO says, "This is of grave concern to us here internationally in WHO because there are so many unknowns around the virus, which so far has killed 55 percent of the confirmed cases."
Cases have been linked from the Middle East to the UK, Germany, France and Tunisia. So far, 27 people have died with the largest number of cases in Saudi Arabia. Dr. W. Ian Lipkin with Columbia University says, "People should always be concerned whenever there is an emerging infectious disease because we don't really know. We don't have ways in which we can predict and project and appropriately prepare for some of these."
Ian Lipkin is leading a team of scientists at Columbia University to investigate the virus, which is in the same family as SARS and the common cold.
Symptoms include fever and severe respiratory problems. Patients have also developed pneumonia and kidney failure. Officials have found some clusters of cases where the disease has been transmitted between family members or in a health care setting.
Researchers are looking at whether it was initially passed from animals to humans. Dr. Lipkin says, "The original host, the original reservoir for the virus in SARS was a bat, and we think based on our analysis of the sequence of this virus, that it also originated in a bat probably somewhere in the Middle East."
Health officials don't know much about how the virus spreads, but at this point, travel warnings have not been issued. Dr. Mark Denison with Vanderbilt University says, "I don't think we should be concerned in terms of travel to the Middle East or to anywhere in the world right now. But to just be aware of it. Most of the cases and the illnesses have been associated with the elderly and those with pre-existing or severe underlying medical conditions."
The World Health Organization is so concerned about this virus because there's no known treatment and no way to make a vaccine, not just yet.
Doctors are currently working on that. In the cases that have been found in eight countries, all have been linked to the Middle East.