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Wednesday 19th June 2019

New virus found linked to Middle East

24th September 2012

The Geneva-based World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned the world of the emergence of a new virus - similar to the one which caused the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic - in the Middle East.


The UN agency made the announcement through its "global alert and response" system after health authorities in the UK identified the virus in a patient who had flown in from Qatar, seeking treatment.

The virus was found in a 49-year-old Qatari national who had recently travelled to Saudi Arabia, the WHO bulletin said. He was flown to the UK by air ambulance with acute respiratory problems and renal failure.

Laboratory tests by the Heath Protection Agency (HPA) confirmed the presence of a new coronavirus, similar to SARS, and nearly identical to that isolated from a patient from Saudi Arabia by the Erasmus University in the Netherlands earlier this year.

The Erasmus virus was obtained from the lung tissue of a a 60-year-old Saudi national, who had died after an acute illness.

The Qatari man had been previously in good health, but is now critically ill in a UK hospital after being transferred from an intensive care unit in the Qatari capital.

The sequencing data from the two viruses showed a 99.5% match, with only a small area of difference in the regions of the genome that were compared.

WHO said it was currently seeking further information on the public health implications of the two confirmed cases.

The new viruses belongs to a large family of viruses, the coronaviruses, which also includes some cold viruses and SARS.

More than 800 people died in the SARS epidemic worldwide after the virus first emerged in China in 2002. However, according to Peter Openshaw, director of the Centre for Respiratory Infection at Imperial College London, the new virus seemed unlikely at the current stage to cause this level of destruction.

He said he was not immediately concerned at the news, because the cases were quite far apart, and may only have been detected because of more sophisticated techniques used by laboratories. But he said he would be following developments.

The WHO has not recommended any travel restrictions in relation to the two cases.

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