May 8, 2013 -- A Frenchman has been diagnosed with a deadly SARS-like virus after visiting the United Arab Emirates, France's Ministry of Health said today.
The 65-year-old man, whose name has not been made public, has been placed in an isolated intensive care unit at a hospital in the northern city of Douai, the agency said in a statement.
"This is the first and only confirmed case in France to date," it added.
Since September 2012, at least 30 people worldwide have contracted the novel coronavirus, dubbed human nCoV, according to the World Health Organization. Eighteen people have died.
"The problem with new infectious agents is that usually people have little to no immunity so if they are able to spread easily from person to person, the impact can be devastating," said ABC News' chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser, who served as acting director for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the 2009 swine flu outbreak.
The new SARS-like virus can cause pneumonia and kidney failure. But unlike the SARS virus, which a decade ago sickened more than 8,000 people and killed 775, it doesn't appear to easily spread from person to person.
"It has spread between family members but little is known beyond that," said Besser.
The new virus was first identified in September 2012 following the infections of a Qatari man in a British hospital and a woman who died in Saudi Arabia. The majority of cases have clustered in the Arabian Peninsula, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"CDC recommends that U.S. travelers to countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula monitor their health and see a doctor right away if they develop fever and symptoms of lower respiratory illness, such as cough or shortness of breath. They should tell the doctor about their recent travel," the agency said in a statement.
The French patient travelled to Dubai in mid-April, the Agence France Presse reported. He was hospitalized in Valenciennes on April 23 and then transferred to the Douai hospital April 29, according to the French Ministry of Health.
While the virus is spreading more slowly than SARS, French health officials are trying to reach anyone that might have come into contact with the new patient. They have also established a national hotline to answer questions from the public.
"It is so important to pay attention whenever a new infectious disease appears on the scene," said Besser. "Early on it can be very difficult to tell how big of a health problem it will be."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.