Researchers discover new SARS-like virus in Middle East

WHO requests information on any possible cases of the new coronavirus

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Sunday issued a global alert after a Qatari man was diagnosed with a new respiratory illness similar to the SARS virus, which killed 800 people worldwide in the early 2000s.

The 49-year-old patient is in critical condition in a hospital in Britain. He recently travelled to Saudi Arabia, where another patient has already died from a nearly identical virus.

"In the light of the severity of the illness that has been identified in the two confirmed cases, immediate steps have been taken to ensure that people who have been in contact with the U.K. case have not been infected, and there is no evidence to suggest that they have," says John Watson, head of the respiratory diseases department of Britain's Health Protection Agency.

Although a senior British health official says there is no immediate cause for concern, experts are now on the lookout for signs of the disease spreading. WHO is in contact with health authorities in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Kingdom.

"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," says WHO spokesperson Gregory Hartl.

The new illness is a coronavirus, a large family of viruses that includes the common cold and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). SARS appeared in 2002 and infected more than 8,000 people in 30 countries before it was brought under control in 2003.

WHO has not recommended any travel restrictions (Roberts, BBC News, 9/24; Kelland, Reuters, 9/24).

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