The World Health Organisation issued a global alert on Monday for a new SARS-like respiratory virus which left a man from Qatar critically ill in a London hospital and killed at least one more in Saudi Arabia. The 49-year-old Qatari was admitted to an intensive care unit in Doha on September 7 suffering from acute respiratory infection and kidney failure before being transferred to Britain by air ambulance on September 11, the WHO said. A Saudi Arabian national died earlier this year from a virtually identical virus, the WHO said, while Saudi medical authorities said they were investigating other possible cases of the disease.
The WHO confirmed the illness was in the coronavirus family but was not SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which swept out of China in 2003, killing more than 800 people worldwide. “This is a new virus,” WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl told AFP. “We haven’t heard of any more new cases. We don’t have an appreciation of how widespread the virus is,” Hartl said. “This is one reason why we’re trying to get more information. We don’t know how it’s transmitted.” The WHO said the Qatari first fell ill on September 3 after visiting Saudi Arabia. Britain’s Health Protection Agency confirmed the presence of the new coronavirus and then found that it was a 99.5 percent match with a virus obtained from the lung tissue of a 60-year-old Saudi man who died earlier this year. Coronaviruses are causes of the common cold but can also include more severe illnesses including SARS.