Entries in SARS (3)


SARS-Like Virus Continues to Spread Through Middle East

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(RIYADH, Saudi Arabia) -- A new virus spreading through the Middle East has claimed three more lives, according to Saudi health officials, bringing the death toll to 30.

At least 50 people have been sickened by the virus, newly-dubbed MERS-CoV for “Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus.” The majority of cases have clustered in Saudi Arabia. But infections have also emerged in Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Germany, the United Kingdom and France.

All of the cases have ties to the Middle East, according to the World Health Organization.

A Frenchman, who became ill after traveling to Dubai, died earlier this week roughly one month after being hospitalized with respiratory symptoms. His roommate at the hospital also contracted the virus, reaffirming suspicions that MERS-CoV can be passed from person-to-person.

The virus has also spread through a health care facility Al-Ahsa, Saudi Arabia, where at least 22 patients have been sickened and 10 have died. In light of such cases, doctors on Wednesday recommended quarantining patients for at least 12 days.

Until recently, MERS-CoV was known widely as the “SARS-like virus” because of its semblance to the deadly SARS virus, which a decade ago sickened more than 8,000 people and killed 774. But experts caution that while both viruses can cause pneumonia and organ failure, MERS-CoV appears to spread less readily than SARS so far.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Saudi Health Officials Brace for Hajj Pilgrimage to Mecca

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Saudi Arabian health officials are bracing for the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca expected to draw more than two million Muslims from around the world.

This year's pilgrimage, set to begin on Oct. 24, will come one month after the discovery of a SARS-like virus linked to the death of a Saudi man earlier this year.  Another man, who is from Qatar, but had recently traveled to Saudi Arabia, is in critical condition with the same infection.

The Saudi Ministry of Health is "keeping a close eye on all developments" and urging all those who wish to participate in the pilgrimage -- the fifth pillar of Islam -- to keep their hands clean and wear masks in crowded places, according to its website.

"We pray for Allah to protect our beloved country from all such harms and diseases," the website says.

The new virus belongs to a family called coronaviruses, which are typically spread by coughs and sneezes.  Coronaviruses include the common cold as well as SARS, which swiftly spread from Asia to America and Europe a decade ago, killing nearly 800 of the more than 8,000 people it infected.

"The Hajj brings people from all over world to one small place," said Dr. William Schaffner, president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.  "People can carry infections with them, and we have to be aware of that."

People participating in the pilgrimage are required to be vaccinated against yellow fever, meningitis and polio, if they come from polio-endemic countries.  The Ministry of Health also recommends the seasonal influenza vaccine.

"Vaccinations are important; identifying people who are ill and isolating them is equally important," said Schaffner.  "You need an environment where someone who's ill gets prompt medical attention, and the illness is called into health authorities to make sure it's an individual event and not the beginning of an outbreak."

The World Health Organization is "working closely with Saudi Arabia, as in previous years, to support the country's health measures for all visitors participating in the [Hajj] pilgrimage to Mecca next month," according to a WHO statement.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Response to SARS-Like Virus an Improvement over 2003 Outbreak

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Health officials detected a SARS-like virus that started in the Middle East this month. Still, the global response is drastically different from what it was in 2003, when the world learned about the original SARS virus only after it had already taken hold of Hong Kong.

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Sunday that two cases of a SARS-like virus have been reported: a 49-year-old Qatari man in critical condition in a U.K. hospital and a 60-year-old Saudi woman who died earlier this year.  They suffered from a 99.5 percent identical coronavirus that caused acute respiratory syndrome and renal failure.  (Coronaviruses include a range of viruses from SARS to the common cold.)

“It took the outbreak in Hong Kong and subsequent spread to bring that to our attention,” Dr. William Schaffner said of the 2003 SARS outbreak.  Schaffner chairs preventative medicine at Vanderbilt University. “The surveillance for viruses that cause disease, particularly respiratory viruses, has improved enormously over the last 10 years worldwide.  What happened here demonstrates that.”

The man with the new SARS-like virus first showed symptoms on Sept. 3 and was admitted to an intensive care unit in Qatar on Sept. 7, according to a WHO statement.  He was transferred to a hospital in the United Kingdom four days later, where the Health Protection Agency conducted lab testing to determine that he had a never-before-seen coronavirus similar to SARS. The U.K. informed WHO of the discovery on Sept. 22, and WHO made the announcement on Sept. 23.

In short, the whole world found out about the new SARS-like virus less than three weeks after its second known victim first presented symptoms.

A decade ago, SARS infected 8,098 people from November 2002 through July 2003, killing 774 of them.  It is believed that the virus began in Chinese horseshoe bats in 2002 before spreading to cats sold at animal markets for food, and spreading from there to humans. New cases tapered off and stopped around 2003, with the exception of eight new cases in China in 2004.

Schaffner said scientific and technological advances in the last 10 years allowed health officials to shift from reaction to anticipation this time around.  Not only are hospitals sending specimens of the viruses to labs earlier, he said, but technicians can do molecular testing that wasn’t easily or cheaply available in 2003.

Ralph Baric, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Public Health who has studied SARS for eight years, said it’s important to realize that this SARS-like virus could actually be very different from the original, however, given that it’s named for the symptoms (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) rather than the virus’s makeup.

“In this case, this has been caught earlier, and that is probably really good news, but again at this point it’s just speculation and guessing,” he said, adding that there have been many new coronaviruses over the last 30 years.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio