LONDON // A Qatari man struck down with a previously unknown virus related to the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) infection and the common cold is critically ill in hospital in Britain, the World Health Organisation (Who) said yesterday.
The UN health body put out a global alert on Sunday about the 49-year-old man who had recently travelled to Saudi Arabia – where it said a second patient with an almost identical virus had already died.
A senior British health official said there was no immediate cause for concern although experts were watching out for any signs of the virus spreading.
Any suggestions of a link between the virus and Saudi Arabia will cause particular concern in the build-up to next month’s Haj pilgrimage, when millions of people arrive in the kingdom from across the world, then return to their homes.
The virus, known as a coronavirus, comes from the same family as the Sars infection that emerged in 2002 and killed 800 people.
“This is now an international issue because we have a case in the UK and one in Saudi,” said Gregory Hartl, a Who spokesman.
“The (Qatari) patient is still alive but, as we understand, in critical condition,” he said.
The Qatari man first showed symptoms of an acute respiratory infection and kidney failure while he was in Qatar, the Who said.
He spent some time in intensive case in Qatar and was later flown to the UK where he was being treated in a London hospital, said authorities, declining to say which one.
Laboratory tests on the Qatari man showed his virus was almost identical to one that killed a Saudi patient this year, the health agency said. The Saudi man’s virus was not identified as a new kind of infection at the time of his death.
The Who said it was in touch with health authorities in Britain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and at the Stockholm-based European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
“We’re asking for information from whoever might have seen such cases, but as of the moment we haven’t had any more notifications of cases,” said Mr Hartl.