New SARS-related cases found in Qatar, Saudi Arabia

Published Saturday, November 24, 2012

A new virus from the SARS family which sparked a global alert in September has now killed two people in Saudi Arabia and Qatar and the total number of cases has risen to six, the World Health Organization said on Friday.

The UN health agency issued a global alert in late September saying a virus previously unknown in humans had infected a 49-year-old Qatari who had recently traveled to Saudi Arabia, where another man with the same virus had died in June.

On Friday, it said in a disease outbreak update that it had registered four more cases and that one of the new patients had died.

"The additional cases have been identified as part of the enhanced surveillance in Saudi Arabia (3 cases, including 1 death) and Qatar (1 case)," the WHO said.

The new virus is known as a coronavirus and shares some of the symptoms of SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which emerged in China in 2002 and killed around a tenth of the 8,000 people it infected worldwide.

Among the symptoms in the confirmed cases are fever, coughing and breathing difficulties.

Coronaviruses are typically spread like other respiratory infections, such as flu, traveling in airborne droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

The new virus causes rapid kidney failure, setting it apart from SARS, the WHO said.

In view of the small number of cases with little connection between them, the WHO has previously said the virus did not appear to be very contagious. But it stressed Friday that many cases might be going undetected.

The WHO said investigations were being conducted into the likely source of the infection, the method of exposure, and the possibility of human-to-human transmission of the virus.

"Close contacts of the recently confirmed cases are being identified and followed-up," it said.

The WHO called Friday on countries to "continue their surveillance for severe acute respiratory infections" in general, adding that it was working to provide guidance related specifically to the novel coronavirus.

"Until more information is available, it is prudent to consider that the virus is likely more widely distributed than just the two countries which have identified cases," the WHO said.

(Reuters, AFP)

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