Over the past two weeks, a growing number of cases have been reported of a new strain of coronavirus, a contagious and potentially fatal virus that resembles SARS, which caused a global health scare a decade ago. Here's what you need to know:

What is the new coronavirus?

The exact medical term for the virus is NCoV-EMC or novel coronavirus. "Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that includes viruses that may cause a range of illnesses in humans, from the common cold to SARS. Viruses of this family also cause a number of animal diseases," the World Health Organization reports. 

The new strain of coronavirus is also referred to as "SARS-like virus" as it has similar features, although the new one seems less contagious, says French epidemiologist Antoine Flahault.

The novel coronavirus is not to be confused with the avian influenza A(H7N9), which emerged at the beginning of the year.

the new coronavirus - image: youtube

How widespread?
Since the virus was first identified in September 2012, 34 cases have been reported, and 18 people have died from it, according to the World Health Organization. Fifteen of the deaths so far have been in Saudi Arabia, with cases also confirmed in France, UK, Germany and Jordan.

What are the symptoms?
Most patients suffer from severe acute respiratory disease requiring hospitalization and eventually require mechanical ventilation or other advanced respiratory support. The virus causes pneumonia and can lead to kidney failure.

Who is at risk?
The World Health Organization said on Sunday that it seemed likely the virus could be transmitted from human to human, but only after prolonged contact. There is no evidence of a potential "generalized transmission in communities," The Guardian reports. Most patients affected were living in the Middle East or had recently traveled there. They were mostly male (around 80%), and their ages ranged from 24 to 94 years old (median age: 56).

What are the precautions to take?
As of today, the virus poses a low risk of transmission and is not considered as an epidemic. Still, people traveling to the Middle East are advised to wash their hands regularly and avoid contact with animals.