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New SARS-like virus poses medical mystery

Scientists are trying to unravel a medical mystery involving a new type of coronavirus, which come from that same large family of viruses that bring us the common cold but also brought us Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome – better known as SARS – back in 2002.

So far, two patients have been identified as having been infected with this new virus: A 49-year-old male from Qatar who was transferred to the United Kingdom for treatment September 11 and is currently in critical condition, and a 60-year-old Saudi Arabian man who was treated in June and has since died.

While the Qatari man is known to have traveled to Saudi Arabia, officials at the World Health Organization do not believe there’s a connection between the two.

However, it has been determined that they both had the same symptoms, severe respiratory illness-like pneumonia and kidney failure.  When samples from both patients were tested, researchers found they both were infected with the same virus.

This new virus was first identified and reported by Dr. Ali Mohamed Zaki at the Virology Laboratory of Dr. Soliman Fakeeh Hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.  He had taken a sample from the Saudi patient’s lungs before he succumbed to his illness.  After comparing it to other cold and flu viruses and the SARS virus, it became clear that he had found a new virus, according a WHO spokesman.

Zaki then had his sample verified by a leading coronavirus researcher, Dr. Ron Fouchier at Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, according to his posting on the website for ProMed, the Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases, on September 15.

Researchers in the UK also isolated the virus in the patient from Qatar and sent them to the Netherlands as well.  Fouchier studied the genetic makeup of both and found them to be 99.5% identical.

On a molecular level, this new coronovirus more closely resembles the SARS virus which sickened 8,000 people and killed 774 between 2002 and 2003, than a cold virus.

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