Dubai: The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday urged health workers around the world to report any patient with acute respiratory infection who may have travelled to Saudi Arabia or Qatar and been exposed to a new SARS-like virus confirmed in two people so far.
The announcement comes as five people have been isolated in a hospital in Denmark with symptoms of the new viral respiratory illness.
“We have sent samples from the five for testing and hope to get the results this afternoon,” chief physician Svend Stenvang Petersen of Odense University Hospital said.
“The five have a fever, coughing and influenza-like symptoms,” he added.
Petersen said those admitted were a family of four where the father had been to Saudi Arabia, and an unrelated person who had been to Qatar. Two of those with symptoms were under the age of five.
“We have put them in isolation because we don’t know how the virus spreads. So just as with bird and swine flu we have admitted them and isolated them so that we prevent the spread to others,” Petersen said.
“We do not have any medicine that works against this virus.”
The WHO global alert for medical staff comes as the virus had infected a 49-year-old Qatari who had recently travelled to Saudi Arabia — where another man with an almost identical virus had died.
The Qatari was admitted to an intensive care unit in Doha on September 7 suffering from acute respiratory infection and kidney failure before being transferred to London by air ambulance on September 11.
He is now in a critical condition at Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital in London.
“The patient, who has been isolated, is receiving extracorporeal membrane oxygenation treatment, which delivers oxygen to the blood outside the body when the lungs are not able to,” the hospital said in a statement.
The hospital said it was following strict procedures to ensure patients and staff are not infected by the mystery virus
“There is no evidence that the virus has been transmitted to any other patient or member of staff. However, staff involved in caring for this patient are being followed up by occupational health as a precaution,” it said.
The germ is a coronavirus, from a family of viruses that cause the common cold as well as SARS, the severe acute respiratory syndrome that killed some 800 people, mostly in Asia, in a 2003 epidemic.
WHO isn’t currently recommending travel restrictions and said the source of infection remains unknown. Still, the situation has raised concerns ahead of next month’s annual Haj pilgrimage, which brings millions of faithful to Saudi Arabia from around the world.
Health officials don’t know yet whether the virus could spread as rapidly as SARS did or if it might kill as many people. SARS, which first jumped to humans from civet cats in China, hit more than 30 countries worldwide after spreading from Hong Kong.
British Health protection officials are testing more than 30 health care workers who have come in contact with the Qatari patient.
“It’s still [in the] very early days,” said Gregory Hartl, a WHO spokesman. “At the moment, we have two sporadic cases and there are still a lot of holes to be filled in.”
He added it was unclear how the virus spreads. Coronaviruses are typically spread in the air but Hartl said scientists were considering the possibility that the patients were infected directly by animals.
—Compiled from agencies