The World Health Organization is keeping a close eye on a disease outbreak in Saudi Arabia caused by a virus in the same family as the one that caused SARS.
There have been two confirmed infections with the new coronavirus and tests results are pending on a third suspected case, according to media reports from the Middle East. Two of those three people have died.
While word of a coronavirus outbreak immediately brings SARS to mind, there is too little information at this point to say whether this is anything more than a blip on the viral radar.
Still, with pilgrims beginning to gather in Saudi Arabia for next month's Hajj, the public health community is on alert.
"As with any new virus, this is of concern to us and we're watching it very closely," WHO spokesperson Gregory Hartl said Sunday...
...The new coronavirus reportedly causes severe pneumonia and kidney failure.
One of the confirmed cases is in intensive care in a hospital in London, Britain's Health Protection Agency said Sunday.
A statement from the WHO said the person is a 49-year-old man from Qatar who had travelled to Saudi Arabia before he became sick. He was admitted to intensive care in Doha on Sept. 7, but was transferred to Britain by air ambulance on Sept. 11.
"Given that this is a novel coronavirus, WHO is currently in the process of obtaining further information to determine the public health implications of these two confirmed cases," the WHO statement said. It did not refer to the third suspect case.
Professor John Watson, head of the respiratory diseases department at the Health Protection Agency, said to date there is no sign of spread to health-care workers.
That is important because health-care workers often serve as inadvertent sentinels of the spread of infectious diseases.
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