New SARS-Like Virus Found In The Middle East

By Amir Khan on September 24, 2012 2:14 PM EDT

SARS
During the SARS epidemic, people frequently wore masks to prevent infection (Photo: Creative Commons)

A new SARS-like virus has been detected in the Middle East, killing one in Saudi Arabia and leaving another in critical condition at a British hospital. Health officials say they are closely following the progress of the disease and are researching it further to better understand the potentially deadly virus.

The virus comes from a family of coronaviruses, which are responsible for a wide variety of illnesses, including the common cold and SARS, a respiratory infection that killed 800 people in Asia during a 2003 epidemic.

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The latest case of the new SARS-like virus occurred in a man who recently travelled to Saudi Arabia. He was transferred from Qatar to London for treatment, where is he listed in critical condition with kidney failure.

Health officials urged people to be calm, saying it is unclear if the virus can spread as quickly as SARS or if it could be as deadly.

"It's still (in the) very early days," Gregory Hartl, a WHO spokesman, told CBS News. "At the moment, we have two sporadic cases and there are still a lot of holes to be filled in."

Hartl said it's unclear how the virus spreads. Coronaviruses are typically spread through the air, but so far, there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission.

"All possible avenues of infection are being explored right now," he said.

SARS affected more than 30 countries during the epidemic's peak, and Michael Osterholm, a flu expert at the University of Minnesota said the fact that one person is worrisome.

"You don't die from the common cold," he said. "This gives us reason to think it might be more like SARS."

SARS killed 10 percent of people it infected, but Osterholm said it's unclear how deadly the new SARS-like virus is.

"We don't know if this is going to turn into another SARS or if it will disappear into nothing," he said.

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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