Deadly virus triggers fears of SARS-like epidemic

WHO has not declared whether deadly virus, which has caused the death of a Saudi national, is a public health threat

By Dinsa Sachan
Published: Tuesday 25 September 2012

A new virus that causes symptoms similar to those seen in patients suffering from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), and accompanied by renal failure, has been reportedly found in an individual who recently travelled to West Asia, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said. A similar virus had caused the death of a person in Saudi Arabia sometime back, prodding the world health body to issue an immediate alert.

In 2003, the SARS virus had infected around 6,000 people worldwide, most of them in China. Around 400 fatalities were documented.

The latest patient to be infected by the virus, which has triggered fears of a SARS-like epidemic, is a citizen of Qatar who had travelled to Saudi Arabia before the onset of the symptoms. On September 7, he was admitted in a Qatar hospital and was later transferred to a UK medical facility. Laboratory tests confirmed a new type of coronavirus.

Symptoms: flu, pneumonia

Coronavirus is a large family of viruses that cause diseases ranging from common cold to SARS. Symptoms caused by this new virus include severe flu-like symptoms that can develop into full blown pneumonia.

Sequencing results show that this new virus is quite similar to another virus that was isolated in a Dutch laboratory sometime back. This virus was obtained from the lung tissue of a 60-year old Saudi national who eventually died. “This comparison indicated 99.5 per cent identity, with one nucleotide mismatch (a minor difference) over the regions compared,” the press release added.

No travel advisories have been issued by WHO so far. The health organisation did not comment on whether this virus could be a threat to public health.

Rajeev Kaul, virologist at Delhi University, says, “The major cause of concern is that the virus is definitely deadly as seen by the death in Saudi Arabia, and could really cause a havoc if it turns out that it can transmit between humans. As of now we do not know if that is the case. To be on safe side, WHO has issued the alert so that any similar cases can be quickly identified and transmission could be contained.”

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