Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
A respiratory illness similar to SARS virus has been found in a patient from Qatar. The 49-year-old man, who was transferred to a London hospital by air ambulance from Qatar, is the second person confirmed with the coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The UN health body said it urgently needs more information on the new virus, which comes from the same family as the SARS virus that emerged in 2002-03 and killed more than 800 people in China before being contained. The scope of the latest threat is still under investigation by health officials, who have said it is too early to recommend travel restrictions.
Peter Openshaw, director of the Centre for Respiratory Infection at Imperial College London, said it was unlikely, however, that there would be any widespread health concerns, but health experts will continue to be on alert and watch for any signs of it spreading.
The WHO said the patient was showing signs of an acute respiratory infection and kidney failure.
“The patient is still alive but, as we understand, in critical condition,” Gregory Hartl, spokesman for the Geneva-based WHO, told Reuters℠ Kate Kelland. “We are still investigating this. We’re asking for information from whoever might have seen such cases, but as of the moment we haven’t had any more notifications of cases.”
“In the light of the severity of the illness that has been identified in the two confirmed cases, immediate steps have been taken to ensure that people who have been in contact with the UK case have not been infected, and there is no evidence to suggest that they have,” said Professor John Watson, head of the respiratory diseases department at the UK’s Health Protection Agency (HPA).
“Further information about these cases is being developed for healthcare workers in the UK, as well as advice to help maintain increased vigilance for this virus,” he added.
The WHO said the Qatari man had gone to the doctor on September 3, suffering from the symptoms of an acute respiratory infection. On September 7, he was admitted to an intensive care unit in Doha, Qatar and on September 11, he was transferred to Britain by air.
While the WHO did not reveal why the man had been moved to the UK, it did note that the HPA did conduct lab tests and “has confirmed the presence of a novel coronavirus.”
It said the HPA compared gene sequences of the virus from the Qatari patient with samples of virus sequenced by Dutch scientists from lung tissue of a fatal case earlier this year in a Saudi Arabian national and found a 99.5 percent match.
Openshaw said while the two sequences appeared to be a match, there was little evidence that both the Qatari patient and the Saudi death are related. However, any new evidence of “sustained human-to-human transmission or of contact would be more worrying, raising the worry that another SARS-like agent could be emerging,” he noted.
SARS, like other coronaviruses, is spread through droplets of fluids–typically produced from sneezes and coughs.