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Sars type virus that may have emerged in Saudi Arabia closely monitored by WHO

The World Health Organisation yesterday urged health workers around the world to report any patient with acute respiratory infection who may have travelled to Saudi Arabia or Qatar and been exposed to a new Sars-like virus.

GENEVA // The World Health Organisation yesterday urged health workers around the world to report any patient with acute respiratory infection who may have travelled to Saudi Arabia or Qatar and been exposed to a new Sars-like virus.

No new cases of acute respiratory syndrome with renal failure due to the new virus had been reported but the WHO was continuing investigations.

The UN agency put out a global alert on Sunday saying a new virus had infected a 49-year-old Qatari who had recently travelled to Saudi Arabia - where another man with an almost identical virus had died.

The Qatari remained critically ill in hospital in Britain.

"We've got things in place should things change, should the behaviour of the virus change," the WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said.

The WHO said it was working closely with Saudi authorities regarding health measures for the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca next month when millions of Muslims travel to the kingdom and then return to their home countries.

Its clinical guidance to 194 member states said health care workers should be alert to anyone with acute respiratory syndrome that may include fever (above 38°C or 100.4°F) and cough, requiring hospitalisation, who had been in the area where the virus was found or in contact with a suspect or confirmed case within the previous 10 days.

The virus, known as a coronavirus also related to the common cold, comes from the same family as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome which emerged in China in 2002. Sars infected 8,000 people worldwide and killed 800 of them before being brought under control.

The WHO said it was identifying a network of laboratories that could provide expertise on coronaviruses to countries.

"Though it is a very different virus from Sars, given the severity of the two confirmed cases so far, WHO is engaged in further characterising the novel coronavirus," it said, referring to genetic sequencing.

Mr Hartl, speaking to reporters on Tuesday, said: "This is not Sars, it will not become Sars, it is not Sars-like."

It was not established whether the virus spread by human to human contact or just how it was transmitted, he said.

"We don't know if all cases of infections are as severe as the two cases we have currently or in fact whether there have been two million cases of this virus and only two severe cases."

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