Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A SARS-like virus emerges in the Middle East

Screen shot of ProMed Mail

In today's Wall Street Journal:

ATLANTA—Global health authorities are hunting for cases of a mysterious viral respiratory illness that killed at least one person in Saudi Arabia and left another who traveled there in intensive care in a U.K. hospital.

Health officials said the source of the virus infecting both is unknown, though they have identified it as a coronavirus, part of a large family of viruses that in most cases cause common colds, but also have caused SARS. 
 Why does this matter? Because Severe acute respiratory syndrome erupted in China in late 2002 and spread to a number of countries, infecting more than 8,000 people and killing about 775 before it disappeared in mid 2003. *AND* these new cases come a month ahead of the Hajj pilgrimage, which draws millions of Muslim pilgrims to Saudi Arabia. The risk of infectious disease during Hajj is well-known; the Saudi Ministry of Health requires pilgrims to show proof they have been vaccinated against meningococcal meningitis

The World Health Organization said the new virus has been identified in a 49-year-old man from Qatar who traveled to Saudi Arabia before falling ill Sept. 3. He is being treated for acute respiratory syndrome and kidney failure. 
 The virus that infected him bears a 99.5% similarity to one isolated from the lung tissue of a 60-year-old man from Saudi Arabia who died this summer after suffering respiratory and kidney failure, the WHO said.

Saudi officials identified a third death, but didn't give further details. The WHO said it was a suspect case that can't be confirmed postmortem. (Read the full story here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444813104578016283623675370.html )
If you're interested in following infectious disease, you should know about ProMed mail (screenshot above). The website is located here: http://healthmap.org/promed/

It makes for fascinating reading -- and may, if you're a health care practitioner, put illnesses on your radar you might not otherwise consider. Regarding this SARS-like virus, you also learn there was an "outbreak of severe respiratory disease of unknown origin in Jordan in April" that some folks now wonder whether it was related to this new coronavirus. Stay tuned.