World Health Organization Warned About SARS Like Disease Outbreak in Saudi Arabia

Posted on September 24, 2012

CBC News reports that the World Health Organization (WHO) has been warned by the Health Protection Agency of the UK about the outbreak of a disease similar to SARS in Saudi Arabia. There have been two confirmed cases and one suspected case. One of the three infected people have died. The virus in Saudi Arabia is a novel coronavirus. The SARS outbreak in 2002 and 2003 was also caused by a coronavirus, SARS-CoV. Coronaviruses also cause the common cold.

The most recent case involves a 49-year-old man in the UK who was hospitalized with a case of acute respiratory syndrome with renal failure. He had recently traveled to Qatar. The WHO has issued a statement about the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The case is a previously healthy, 49 year old male Qatari national that presented with symptoms on 3 September 2012 with travel history to the KSA prior to onset of illness. On 7 September he was admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU) in Doha, Qatar. On 11 September, he was transferred to the UK by air ambulance from Qatar. The Health Protection Agency of the UK (HPA) conducted laboratory testing and has confirmed the presence of a novel coronavirus .

The HPA has compared the sequencing of the virus isolate from the 49 year old Qatari national with that of a virus sequenced previously by the Erasmus University Medical Centre, Netherlands. This latter isolate was obtained from lung tissue of a fatal case earlier this year in a 60 year-old Saudi national. This comparison indicated 99.5% identity, with one nucleotide mismatch over the regions compared.

The WHO says it is currently obtaining additional information and has not issued recommendations for travel restrictions.

SARS was blamed for killing 775 people, primarily in Southeast Asia, but it could have been much, much worse. An early, massive response is credited for helping curtail the SARS outbreak in 2002 and 2003. If disease experts find this novel coronavirus could result in a similar outbreak with pandemic potential then travel restrictions and aggressive monitoring are very likely. Travel restrictions, isolation and quarantines were methods used successfully to curb the SARS outbreak and prevent a pandemic. One of the heroes in stopping the outbreak was Italian physician Carlos Urbani, who sent an early warning to WHO. Urbani later died from SARS.

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