EpidemicsConcerns about next month’s Hajj grow as Saudi Arabia identified as source of Sars-like outbreak

Published 27 September 2012

The U.K. Health Protection Agency and World Health Organization are attempting to identify a new Sars-like virus which has infected two people so far, one who has died and another who is receiving intensive care; the source of the virus appears to be in Saudi Arabia, which raises concerned that the Hajj pilgrimage next month could provide the virus a chance to spread around the world; thousands of Muslims from all over the world attend the event every year

The Health Protection Agency and World Health Organization are attempting to identify a new Sars-like virus which has infected two people so far, one who has died and another who is receiving intensive care.

A 60-year old Qatari man was transported from Doha, Qatar to London two weeks ago, and in addition to the virus the man suffered renal failure. The other man who was also sixty, died in Saudi Arabia, where the first man was traveling recently.

The U.K. Health Protection Agency (HPA) is listing a set of symptoms that other healthcare workers can recognize. Those symptoms include severe cough, shortness of breath, and other breathing issues. The Guardian reports that information on the virus is being shared between the WHO and the European Center for Disease Control.

It is not clear whether the virus is circulating more widely, but only rarely causing severe illness.

 “The HPA is providing advice to healthcare workers to ensure the patient under investigation is being treated appropriately.

“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 UK case have not been infected, and there is no evidence to suggest they have.

As we are aware of only two cases worldwide and there is no evidence of ongoing transmission, at present there is no specific action for the public or returning travelers to take but we will share any further advice with the public as soon as more information becomes available.” John Watson, head of respiratory diseases at the HPA told the Guardian

WHO said the man who is still alive was admitted to intensive care in Qatar on 7 September and was flown to London on 11 September.

Officials are now concerned that the Hajj pilgrimage next month could provide the virus a chance to spread around the world. Thousands of Muslims from all over the world attend the event yearly.

The Sars epidemic in 2003 started in China the previous year, but went largely unnoticed until an outbreak in Vietnam. There were an estimated 8,000 cases worldwide and 750 deaths.

According to the HPA, the virus is different from any previously identified.

Peter Openshaw, the director for respiratory infection at Imperial College in London, knows this is a very sensitive situation.

For now, we need to be watchful: any evidence of human to human transmission causing severe disease would be very worrying and would raise the specter of a new Sars-like outbreak.

The hope for now is that these cases are just highly unusual presentations of a generally mild infection, and that viral surveillance and detection is now so good that we are picking up cases that would not have been found in previous times.”

 

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