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article imageWHO on high alert after SARS-like illness claims first victim

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By Darren Weir     Sep 24, 2012 in Health
One man is dead and another is in critical condition with a new coronavirus, similar to SARS. The victims are believed to have contracted the respiratory virus in the Middle East.
World Health Organization (WHO) officials are on high alert over fears about this new coronavirus, from the same family that causes the common cold and SARS which killed more than 800 people world-wide in 2003.
The most recent case was a man from Qatar who had travelled to Saudi Arabia for the hajj pilgrimage. The 49-year old man went to the doctor September 3, after returning home. Four days later he was put into intensive care and then airlifted to London on September 11. British Health officials ran a series of tests and confirmed the presence of the virus.
In an earlier case, a 60-year old man from Saudi Arabia died from unknown causes, until a Dutch medical centre confirmed that it was a corona virus and is a 99.5% match for the most recent case. And Saudi's health ministry says a second person also died with similar symptoms, but that case has not been confirmed by the WHO yet.
Structure of SARS virus
Structure of SARS virus
Fields / Knipe / Howley / Lippincott-Raven
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The WHO says, “Given that this is a novel coronavirus, WHO is currently in the process of obtaining further information to determine the public health implications of these two confirmed cases.”
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Neil Rau says he doesn't think the disease carries the same characteristics of SARS, except that they are both cornonaviruses. “One thing that’s a little reassuring is that unlike SARS where you have clusters of cases, lots of people with a serious disease and a similar disease all in one place, these seem to be…very serious cases but far apart and not necessarily related to each other, the common thread being they’ve been in Saudi Arabia for the hajj.”
Saudi officials are concerned about the upcoming hajj pilgrimage next month, when millions of Muslims from around the world typically travel to Saudi Arabia. Saudi officials are advising pilgrims to keep their hands clean and wear masks in crowded places. But so far the WHO is not issuing any travel restrictions.
One positive sign is that none of the people exposed to the case in the UK have been infected.
But the WHO says more information is needed about the virus and how it spreads; through the air, by human-to-human contact or from contact with animals.
Rau says, "And of course the WHO will be in the Middle East doing a lot of testing to see how widespread this virus already is. My hunch is this virus is already going to be widespread but that it’s not as deadly as it appears.”
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