The World Health Organization (WHO) is worried about a deadly SARS-like virus that has already killed two people in the Middle East. According to the BBC, all six of the cases are linked to either Saudi Arabia or Qatar but the two deaths were in Saudi Arabia. The total number of confirmed cases is six.
Forbes notes that the virus is a novel coronavirus with similar symptoms to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). The hallmark symptoms of SARS are a cough and difficulty breathing.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, WHO physician Dr. Carlo Urbani identified SARS as a new disease in 2003. He diagnosed it in a 48-year-old businessman who had traveled from China, through Hong Kong, to Vietnam. The 2003 SARS outbreak had an estimated 8,000 cases and 750 deaths, meaning that the virus killed nearly 10 percent of the people it infected worldwide.
At this point in time, health experts say that the virus doesn't appear to readily spread from person to person. The U.S. NLM says that SARS spreads like other respiratory viruses. When someone with SARS coughs or sneezes, viral particles spray into the air. One can come down with the SARS virus if they breather or touch these particles. The virus can live on hands, tissues and other surfaces for several hours.
"To date there are no hints for person-to-person transmission. According to the risk assessment of the Robert Koch-Institute risk of illness in Germany is still very low," Germany's Robert Koch Institute wrote in a statement Friday.
The institute believes that a laboratory test at the institute can identify the virus specifically. The institute says that a patient from Qatar was treated at a hospital in Qatar, but because of the severe nature of his symptoms had to be moved to a specialty clinic in Germany. The patients was released earlier this week. The institute will test additional patient samples to develop a better understanding of the SARS-like virus.
According to the WHO, only the two most recently confirmed cases in Saudi Arabia are epidemiologically linked (meaning that they're from the same family, living in the same household). WHO investigators discovered that these two particular cases had similar symptoms. One person died and the other person recovered. Two other members of this family also had similar symptoms. Once again, one person died and other other person recovered. Investigators note that the case that is recovering tested negative for the novel coronavirus but laboratory results are still pending on the fatal case.
The WHO is pushing its investigators to identify the source of the infection, the route of exposure and the possibility of human-to-human transmission of the virus. WHO investigators are identifying and questioning close contacts of the recently confirmed cases. The WHO is working with the governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other international member states to examine the six cases and to obtain a better understanding of 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 in a statement. "Member States should consider testing of patients with unexplained pneumonias for the new coronavirus even in the absence of travel or other associations with the two affected countries. In addition, any clusters of SARI or SARI in health care workers should be thoroughly investigated regardless of where in the world they occur."