GENEVA (CBS Atlanta/AP) — The World Health Organization warns that the deadly SARS-like virus first seen in the Middle East is a global threat.

Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO’s director-general, said in a speech in Geneva Monday that the new respiratory coronavirus MERS “is a threat to the entire world.”

“Looking at the overall global situation, my greatest concern right now is the novel coronavirus. We understand too little about this virus when viewed against the magnitude of its potential threat. Any new disease that is emerging faster than our understanding is never under control,” Chan said during the 66th World Health Assembly.

Chan said that this new virus should send out “alarm bells” across the globe.

“The novel coronavirus is not a problem that any single affected country can keep to itself or manage all by itself. The novel coronavirus is a threat to the entire world,” Chan said.

The virus first came onto the scene last September in the Middle East. MERS has claimed the lives of 24 people in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and France. At least 44 people have contracted the disease worldwide.

“Based on the current situation and available information, WHO encourages all Member States to continue their surveillance for severe acute respiratory infections (SARI) and to carefully review any unusual patterns,” the organization’s website states.

The Associated Press reports that health officials believe that MERS can spread among people if they are in close contact with one another. Experts believe that this virus originated in bats or camels but do not know how people catch the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls this novel coronavirus different from any other coronavirus found in people. This type of virus causes severe acute respiratory illnesses.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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