New SARS-like virus detected in Middle East
Sep 24, 4:54 PM (ET)
By MARIA CHENG
LONDON (AP) – Global health officials are closely monitoring a new
respiratory virus related to SARS that is believed to have killed at
least one person in Saudi Arabia and left a Qatari citizen in critical
condition in London.
The germ is a coronavirus, from a family of viruses that cause the
common cold as well as SARS, the severe acute respiratory syndrome
that killed some 800 people, mostly in Asia, in a 2003 epidemic.
In the latest case, British officials alerted the World Health
Organization on Saturday of the new virus in a man who transferred
from Qatar to be treated in London. He had recently traveled to Saudi
Arabia and is now being treated in an intensive care unit after
suffering kidney failure.
WHO said virus samples from the patient are almost identical to those
of a 60-year-old Saudi national who died earlier this year. The agency
isn’t currently recommending travel restrictions and said the source
of infection remains unknown. Still, the situation has raised concerns
ahead of next month’s annual Hajj pilgrimage, which brings millions of
people to Saudi Arabia from around the world.
Health officials don’t know yet whether the virus could spread as
rapidly as SARS did or if it might kill as many people. SARS, which
first jumped to humans from civet cats in China, hit more than 30
countries worldwide after spreading from Hong Kong.
“It’s still (in the) very early days,” said Gregory Hartl, a WHO
spokesman. “At the moment, we have two sporadic cases and there are
still a lot of holes to be filled in.”
He added it was unclear how the virus spreads. Coronaviruses are
typically spread in the air but Hartl said scientists were considering
the possibility that the patients were infected directly by animals.
He said there was no evidence yet of any human-to-human transmission.
“All possible avenues of infection are being explored right now,” he said.
No other countries have so far reported any similar cases to WHO, he
said, and so far there is no connection between the cases except for a
history of travel in Saudi Arabia.
Hartl said the first patient may have had an underlying condition but
it probably didn’t make him more susceptible to catching the virus.
Other experts said it was unclear how dangerous the virus is.
“We don’t know if this is going to turn into another SARS or if it
will disappear into nothing,” said Michael Osterholm, a flu expert at
the University of Minnesota. He said it was crucial to determine the
ratio of severe to mild cases.
Osterholm said it was worrying that at least one person with the
disease had died. “You don’t die from the common cold,” he said. “This
gives us reason to think it might be more like SARS,” which killed
about 10 percent of the people it infected.
Britain’s Health Protection Agency and WHO said in statements that the
49-year-old Qatari national became ill on Sept. 3, having previously
traveled to Saudi Arabia. He was transferred from Qatar to Britain on
Sept. 11 and is being treated in an intensive care unit at a London
hospital for problems including kidney failure. Respiratory viruses
aren’t usually known to cause serious kidney problems.
In Qatar, Mohammed bin Hamid Al Thani of the Public Health Department
said the patient was in Saudi Arabia for Ramadan during the summer and
fell ill after returning to Qatar. Doctors could not immediately
identify the virus and decided he should be treated in London.
A public health official, Abdullakef al-Khal, said there is no
indication that the patient’s family or others were infected.
“There is no special alert for now,” he said. “We are being vigilant.”
David Heymann, chairman of the Health Protection Agency, said the new
virus didn’t appear that similar to SARS.
“It isn’t as lethal as SARS and we don’t know too much about its
transmissibility yet,” he said. “If people are getting infected, they
aren’t getting serious disease.”
Heymann said none of the health workers involved in treating the
Qatari patient had fallen ill.
Saudi officials said they were concerned that the upcoming Hajj
pilgrimage next month could provide more opportunities for the virus
to spread. They advised pilgrims to keep their hands clean and wear
masks in crowded places.
The Hajj has previously sparked outbreaks of diseases including the
flu, meningitis and polio.
Frank Jordans in Berlin and Abdullah Shihri in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,
contributed to this report.
News Source: My Way News