Qatar man sickened by new virus from same family as SARS, German lab says
A mask worn by health-care workers in the event of a flu outbreak is shown in this 2009 file photo. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Published Friday, November 23, 2012 11:24AM EST
Last Updated Friday, November 23, 2012 3:04PM EST
BERLIN -- A patient from Qatar has been confirmed with a new type of coronavirus, but it has shown no signs of being easily transmitted like the related virus that caused the 2003 global SARS outbreak, Germany's national health institute said Friday.
As a precaution, the World Health Organization advised medical authorities around the world to test any patients with unexplained pneumonias for the virus. Previously, the organization had only advised testing patients who had been to either Qatar or Saudi Arabia -- the two countries with all six reported cases.
"Until more information is available, it is prudent to consider that the virus is likely more widely distributed than just the two countries which have identified cases," the WHO said.
Germany's Robert Koch Institute said the patient fell ill in Qatar in October with severe respiratory problems. He was then brought to Germany for treatment in a specialty clinic and recovered after a month and was released this week.
Britain's Health Protection Agency confirmed based on samples that were sent from Qatar that he was sickened by a new coronavirus, the Koch Institute said.
The World Health Organization said of the six confirmed cases of the virus -- four were from Saudi Arabia, including two deaths, and two from Qatar.
Unlike SARS, the Koch institute says there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission in the patient treated in Germany.
"The Robert Koch Institute's assessment of the risk remains that the possibility of becoming infected in Germany is very low," the institute said.
Still, WHO reported a cluster of cases in a family in Saudi Arabia, where one person died and the other recovered. Two other members of the same family fell ill with similar symptoms.
One person who recovered from the illness tested negative while lab results are pending for the other family member, who died. Health officials always keep a close eye on any clusters of unusual viruses within families, since they may suggest the possibility of human-to-human spread.
About 8,500 people were affected by SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, in 2003 and about 900 died.
The WHO said it was continuing to work with the governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other international health partners to gain a better understanding of the virus.
"Further epidemiological and scientific studies are needed to better understand the virus," the organization said.