15th case of deadly new virus in Saudi Arabia confirmed

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CORONAVIRUS IMPACT

Ninth death of a new SARS-like virus was confirmed by the World Health Organization on Tuesday. A 39-year-old Saudi man was infected by the novel coronavirus and after sever days in the hospital, died on March 2.

This is the 15th case of infection since the virus was first reported last fall when a Qatari man in Britain was infected after a stay in Saudi Arabia. Most cases have been in the Middle East or in patients, who had recently traveled there, and most of them were hospitalized with severe pneumonia and several also developed kidney failure. The new culprit is a coronavirus, a class that includes the common cold virus, and the one that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) which spread in 2002 and 2003 mostly in Asia. The SARS infected around 8,100 people and killed nearly 800. Although similar to it and to coronaviruses found in bats, the new virus, however, is different from SARS especially in that it causes in almost all cases rapid kidney failure.

On February 27, during the annual Biodefense and Emerging Diseases Research Meeting, Gwen Stephens, of the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Health in Riyadh, said that this is a new and virulent virus. The novel coronavirus (NCoV) can be characterized with several symptoms – severe respiratory illness, fever, coughing and breathing difficulties, and rapid kidney failure. According to scientists, NCoV is most similar to coronaviruses that bats carry but it most probably doesn’t just jump directly from a bat to human. None of the infected so far, had direct contact with bats, so the relationship must be more complicated. There is no evidence how people catch the virus or how infectious it is.

NCoV doesn’t seem to pass from person to person, while SARS passed easily did that. So, it is uncertain whether the new virus could evolve into a pandemic, or whether it would just quietly disappear as mysteriously as it first came up. Scientists say it may be well treatable with drugs similar to those doctors fought SARS in 2003. So far, the nine deaths have been confined to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Britain, but researchers say that anyone with symptoms for signs of NCoV should be tested, regardless of whether they have been to those places.

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