WHO Issues Health Alerts On SARS-Like Virus, Saudi Arabia Takes Precautionary Measures
September 26, 2012

WHO Issues Health Alerts On SARS-Like Virus, Saudi Arabia Takes Precautionary Measures

Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

A Qatari man who was rushed to a UK hospital for treatment of a SARS-like disease is now the center of attention for the World Health Organization and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Reports surfaced that the 49-year-old man had traveled to Saudi Arabia, initiating the Arab state to take precautions to prevent the disease from spreading among Muslim pilgrims during next month's Haj pilgrimage.

The reports also led the WHO to urge health workers around the world to be on the lookout for any patients showing signs of acute respiratory infection, especially those who have traveled to Saudi Arabia or Qatar.

The Qatari man remains critically ill in a hospital in Britain, according to the latest information provided to the WHO on Tuesday. WHO officials said on Wednesday that no new cases have surfaced, but will remain vigilant.

“We've got things in place should things change, should the behavior of the virus change,” WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said in a statement to Huffington Post´s Stephanie Nebehay.

The WHO said it is working closely with Saudi authorities to protect millions of Muslims who will travel to the Kingdom next month for the Haj pilgrimage. The pilgrimage will consist of Muslims from some 160 countries flocking to Mecca and Medina for the annual rite of passage, which begins in late October.

Britain´s Health Protection Agency said there was no immediate cause for concern, although health officials would continue to monitor the situation.

“The Health Ministry has taken preventative measures to deal with the influx of over 2 million Haj pilgrims," Ziad Memish, the deputy minister for public health, told Reuters´ Asma Alsharif.

“The measures include monitoring the entrances through land, sea and air to evaluate the people entering and obtain samples if any symptoms are apparent,” he added. “There is also continuous monitoring in the holy places in Mecca and Medina and Jeddah, with teams on the ground and hospitals to deal with them.”

In its statement, the WHO said health workers should be alert to anyone with fever above 100.4°F and cough that requires hospitalization, and who had been in the area where the virus was found or in contact with a suspect or confirmed case within the previous 10 days.

The virus, known as a coronavirus, is related to the common cold, and comes from the same family as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome).

SARS erupted in China in 2002, infecting more than 8,000 people and killing 800 before health officials could contain the disease.

The WHO has a network of laboratories being sorted out that will be able to provide expertise on the disease to affected countries.

Though this new strain is somewhat “different from SARS, given the severity of the two confirmed cases so far, WHO is engaged in further characterizing the novel coronavirus,” it said, referring to genetic sequencing.

“This is not SARS, it will not become SARS, it is not SARS-like,” Hartl told Huff. Post. “We don't know if all cases of infections are as severe as the two cases we have currently or in fact whether there have been 2 million cases of this virus and only 2 severe cases.”