New SARS-like virus found in Middle East (2012)

New SARS-like virus found in Middle East
UN health agency issues a global alert over a new virus similar to the one that claimed 800 lives in 2003.
Last Modified: 24 Sep 2012 21:06

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Global health officials are closely monitoring a new respiratory virus related to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that has left a Qatari citizen in critical condition in a hospital in London.

 The UN’s World Health Organisation (WHO) put out a global alert on Sunday saying a new virus had infected the 49-year-old man who had recently travelled to Saudi Arabia – where another man was killed by an almost identical virus.

Britain’s Health Protection Agency (HPA) and respiratory disease experts said there was no immediate cause for concern, although authorities were watching out for any signs of the virus spreading.

 The virus, known as a coronavirus, comes from the same family as both the common cold and SARS, the syndrome that killed 800 people in a 2003 epidemic. The WHO said it was not recommending any travel restrictions at the moment but would seek further information on the virus.

 Unknown threat
Health officials said they did not know yet whether the virus could spread as rapidly as SARS did, or if it would be as lethal.

“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.”

Coronaviruses are typically spread in the air, but Hartl said scientists were considering the option that the patients were
infected directly by animals as there was no evidence yet of any human-to-human transmission. No other countries have so far reported any similar cases to WHO, he said, and so far there is no connection between the two cases except for a history of travel in Saudi Arabia.

Andrew Easton, a virologist at Britain’s University of Warwick, told the Reuters news agency that with only two cases so far, it was difficult for experts to estimate the potential threat.

“The important thing is to be aware of the virus and to be on the lookout for any evidence that it is more than a rare chance event,” he said.

 Hugh Pennington, a professor of bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen, told Al Jazeera that medicine had also advanced since the SARS outbreak, and that technology would allow faster diagnosis.

“The lessons we’ve learned from SARS have been extremely useful,” he said. “We now have techniques which mean you can do a very rapid fingerprinting of the RNA in somebody’s lungs if they’ve got a very unusual pneumonia.”

Intensive care
The HPA and WHO said in statements that the Qatari national became ill on September 3, after previously having travelled to Saudi Arabia.

 He was transferred from Qatar to Britain on September 11 and is undergoing treatment in an intensive care unit at a London hospital for complications, including kidney failure.

The HPA said it had conducted lab testing on the Qatari’s case and found a 99.5 per cent match to the virus that killed the 60-year-old Saudi national earlier this year.

David Heymann, chairman of the HPA, said the new virus did not 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 symptoms.”

He added that 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, which brings millions of people to Saudi Arabia from all over the world, could provide more opportunities for the virus to spread.

New SARS-Like Virus Found, Man Critically Ill in UK
Submitted by dasha on
September 24, 2012 – 3:57 pm

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A Qatari man struck down with a previously unknown virus related to the deadly SARS infection and the common cold is critically ill in hospital in Britain, the World Health Organisation said on Monday.

The U.N. health body put out a global alert on Sunday saying a new virus had infected the 49-year-old man who had recently travelled to Saudi Arabia – where another man with an almost identical virus had already died.

Britain’s Health Protection Agency (HPA) and respiratory disease experts said there was no immediate cause for concern, although authorities were watching out for any signs of the virus spreading.

 “This new virus … is different from any that have previously been identified in humans,” the HPA said.

Any suggestions of a link between the virus and Saudi Arabia will cause particular concern in the build-up to next month’s Muslim haj pilgrimage, when millions of people arrive in the kingdom from across the world, then return to their homes.

The virus, known as a coronavirus, comes from the same family as SARS which emerged in 2002 and killed 800 people.

“This is now an international issue,” WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said. “The (Qatari) patient is still alive but, as we understand, in critical condition,” he said.

 The HPA said it was recommending the Qatari patient be treated in isolation by doctors and nurses wearing gowns, gloves respirators, goggles and other protective equipment.

It did not recommend any specific actions for travelers or other members of the public.

 INTENSIVE CARE

The Qatari man first showed symptoms of an acute respiratory infection while he was in Qatar, the WHO said.

He spent some time in intensive case in Qatar and was later flown to the UK where he was currently in a London hospital’s intensive care unit, being treated for acute respiratory infection and kidney failure. Officials declined to name the hospital.

Andrew Easton, a virologist at Britain’s University of Warwick, said that with only two cases so far, it was difficult for experts to estimate the potential threat.

 “The important thing is to be aware of the virus and to be on the lookout for any evidence that it is more than a rare chance event,” he said.

 Corona viruses are a large family of viruses that includes causes of the common cold but can also include more severe illness such as the virus responsible for SARS.

 SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, appeared in China in 2002 and infected more than 8,000 people worldwide, killing around 800 of them before being brought under control.

John Oxford, a professor of Virology at Queen Mary, University of London, said he was not too concerned as the new virus was “more likely to join numerous other members of the coronavirus family and behave like a nasty infection rather than join the exception group like SARS”.

 “SARS was very quick off the mark infecting hospital staff,” he said in an emailed comment. “And this new virus does not to me appear to be in the same ‘big bang’ group.”

 The WHO said it was in touch with health authorities in Britain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the Stockholm-based European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC)

“We’re asking for information from whoever might have seen such cases, but as of the moment we haven’t had any more notifications of cases,” said Hartl.

 The HPA said it had conducted lab testing on Qatari case and found a 99.5 percent match to a virus that killed a 60-year-old Saudi national earlier this year. The Saudi man’s virus was not identified as a new kind of infection at the time of his death.

There was no evidence of ongoing transmission, said the head of the HPA’s respiratory diseases department, John Watson.

 “In the light of the severity of the illness that has been identified in the two confirmed cases, immediate steps have been taken to ensure that people who have been in contact with the UK case have not been infected, and there is no evidence to suggest they have,” he said.

REFERENCE: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/24/us-virus-who-idUSBRE88M0FV20120924

 REFERENCE:  http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/09/2012924182013530585.html

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