On October 8, Dr. Eric Tayag, spokesperson for the Department of Health (DOH), issued a public warning stating that the SARS virus had “resurfaced,” urging people to limit handshakes and other forms of touching. This warning came in light of the recent detection of a new type of coronavirus that has so far caused severe respiratory illness in two confirmed patients- one in Saudi Arabia, and another in Qatar.
Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses that are known to cause a number of animal diseases. In humans, coronaviruses most frequently cause the common cold. However, the SARS outbreak between 2002 and 2004 was caused by a different, relatively new type of coronavirus, identified as SARS-CoV. It spread to over 30 countries, infecting more than 8,000 people, and killing over 800 (10% mortality rate).
This time around, another novel coronavirus has caused two people to suffer from respiratory disease. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), however, genetic sequence data has shown that this novel coronavirus is genetically distinct from the SARS-CoV, and is not similar to any other coronavirus previously detected in humans or animals. In the two confirmed cases, both patients were previously healthy. The first patient- a 60 year-old man from Saudi Arabia- died after being hospitalized in June 2012. The second patient, a 49 year-old man from Qatar, began to have symptoms in September 2012 and was transported to the United Kingdom for intensive care. As of October 4, 2012, in an update by the CDC, this patient remains on life support, with both renal (kidney) and pulmonary (lung) failure.
In both cases, the symptoms were acute respiratory illness, presenting with fever, cough, shortness of breath/difficulty breathing. To date, no evidence suggests that the virus is transmitted from person-to-person contact. The WHO and CDC are investigating the possibility of transmission from animals, but with limited information, the mode of transmission has yet to be determined.
So far, no travel restrictions have been issued for any of three countries involved (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Kingdom). In the meantime, the WHO is working with Saudi Arabia to promote safe travel for those participating in the Hajj pilgrimage this October.