A new virus has infected two men. One died, and the other is in critical condition. The new virus is similar to the SARS virus, researchers say. The SARS virus was identified in 2003. The new virus does not appear to spread easily from person to person. Its genes have already been examined. It is closely linked to bat viruses. But it also could have come from sheep, camels or other animals. Both men were infected in the Middle East. They were infected months apart, however. Scientists are now looking for the virus in animals.
By Lori Wiviott Tishler, M.D.
Harvard Medical School
What Is the Doctor's Reaction?
I traveled in China in 2003. This was just after travel restrictions were lifted because of the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) virus. I remember it well whenever we went into any public building, including the airport, people took our temperatures. If we had a fever, we would have been quarantined! I was very interested when I saw the article describing the discovery of a new virus related to SARS.
The World Health Organization has released information about two cases of a new virus, not yet named. It seems related to the SARS virus. It is also related to the common cold. It is a type of coronavirus. These viruses are most commonly upper respiratory tract viruses or stomach viruses. They can infect humans and animals.
Only two people are known to have become sick with the new virus. Both are men who had travelled in the Middle East. Their common point of contact appears to be Saudi Arabia. Scientists think that the virus could be linked to animals in the region, such as goats or camels. It is too soon to know if the two victims of the infection had contact with any animals.
Its always a bit scary to learn about a new infection. I was impressed to see that scientists have already decoded the genes of the virus. This will help scientists identify its source as well as any weak spots that it has. In addition, its impressive to me that the World Health Organizations surveillance was good enough to pick up as few as two cases of this new disease.
Finally, and most importantly, data suggest that this is not an easily transmissible infection. With any luck, it will stay that way.
What Changes Can I Make Now?
Given that this is a rare disease in a faraway place, there is probably nothing to do but stay informed and aware. Dont panic. It's a small world, but this is a rare virus that is not easily passed from person to person.
If you are a Muslim planning to travel on the Hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca) later in October, you should see your doctor. In addition to discussing the new virus with your doctor, people who go on the Hajj should be up to date with flu shots and meningitis shots. They also should have any other appropriate vaccines.
Finally, we can all make sure that we are protected in basic ways. Get a flu shot. Wash your hands. Stay home if you are sick. If you're very ill or have traveled recently in the Middle East, make sure that your doctor knows this.
What Can I Expect Looking to the Future?
In our changing, fast paced world, we can expect to see new infections. I hope that we can also expect to see new advances in prevention, detection and surveillance to help keep us safe and healthy.