New SARS-like virus poses medical mystery
A Canadian health worker restocks surgical masks at a hospital in 2003 during the SARS epidemic.
September 24th, 2012
04:51 PM ET

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.

But it doesn't seem to behave like SARS did, says WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl.  These two men not only suffered from severe respiratory illness, they also had kidney failure, something that wasn't seen in SARS patients.  Also, none of the close contacts or health personnel caring for the patients has become infected yet, says Hartl, but they are still being watched.

"There is reason to be interested and even concerned" about this new coronavirus, says Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

But he notes that when the SARS epidemic was going on, many of those caring for patients were infected too.  The fact that this hasn't been seen with these cases so far is a good sign.  "There's no evidence yet that these viruses are readily transmissible," says Schaffner, who is also the past president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

There are still many unknowns for researchers to uncover.  Have there been other serious cases that haven't been reported yet?

"We don't know if this virus causes mild diseases also," says Hartl.  "We don't know if this is two out of two cases or two out of 2 million (which might include a lot of mild cases)." The WHO has alerted physicians around the world to keep an eye out for more cases.

Doctors also don't know the source of the infection.  A lot of disease detective work is required to further understand where these patients have been, may have eaten or any other behavior that might provide clues.  In 2002, the source of the outbreak was linked to a ferret-like animal called a civet cat, but researchers now believe a horseshoe bat may have been the original source.

So far, no travel restrictions have been issued by the WHO.  Those concerned about being infected can protect themselves by exercising proper hand-washing hygiene and cleaning surfaces that could harbor viruses.

soundoff (174 Responses)
  1. Tesla

    God, I love the smell of fear-mongering, culturist, profanity-laced, high concentration idiocy in the afternoon. Smells like herpderp.

    September 25, 2012 at 15:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Cookie the cook

      These people are in the middle east, why bring them to civilized countries for treatment. They made their bed with unscientific ways, no need to put us at risk for their probs.

      September 26, 2012 at 02:23 | Report abuse |
  2. jane

    So sick of fu**k** up americans! We used to be on the moral high ground but thanks to republican/bullies we are a bigoted nation! HATERS FIND ANOTHER COUNTRY TO BE HATEFUL IN! WE DONT WANT BULLIES IN THIS COUNTRY.

    September 25, 2012 at 15:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tadpole

      Dude, relax. It is an article about an illness.

      September 25, 2012 at 15:50 | Report abuse |
    • James

      Dude, I'm a republican, and I guarantee I have more morals and values than sixty percent of America. Don't hate a political party, hate the degenerate portions of American society, republicans and democrats have nothing to do with it.

      September 25, 2012 at 16:26 | Report abuse |
    • Someone

      You have to realize that when you pressure, try to change the beliefs of, or threaten people against gay marriage, against abortion, or some other pro liberal stance, you are bullying them and discriminating against them, making your cause an oxymoron, meaning it defeats itself, and I don't hate anyone, I just have an opinion, further more, old America was fifty times more conservative and people back then would all side with today's republicans.

      September 25, 2012 at 16:58 | Report abuse |
    • Tesla

      You seem to be applying an awful lot of emotional attachment to a political label. It's unfortunate that in your experience, "republicans" tend to be bullies. I try to avoid that, but occasionally my baser emotions take over. I've seen much of the same behavior in every other political party.

      I don't identify myself as republican, but I would say that I'm socially and fiscally conservative with a few moderate exceptions, which usually means people identify me as a republican. Maybe we can try stepping away from these labels?

      Hateful people exist, but telling them to "get the heck out," as it were, rarely does more than give them cause to entrench themselves. Mary Jane has a right to say the things she does, and you have a right to respond, but the most effective way to get rid of people like that is to ignore them. Words have no power unless you allow them power.

      On that note, I welcome the return to a discussion about a virus that is likely just another overblown flu trying to be a pandemic (Couldn't resist).

      September 25, 2012 at 17:17 | Report abuse |
    • Jour mahm

      Then by all means, get the F out! Too many d-bags all ready.

      September 25, 2012 at 17:34 | Report abuse |
  3. cacalips

    Government made virus used on middle east and tacken back to west for relaunch. Nice

    September 25, 2012 at 16:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Sam

    Well, I know my immune system is ten times stronger than that of anyone who grew up in a large city, so when antibiotics fail, I'm safe. Thank you small town youth

    September 25, 2012 at 16:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jack

      @Sam, I love the countryside. However, isn't SARS, BIRD FLU, and SWINE FLU came from the farm? I'm just saying.

      September 25, 2012 at 16:56 | Report abuse |
    • Sam

      I'm not saying immunity, just a better chance of fighting it off, my body is exposed to a variety of pathogens

      September 25, 2012 at 17:00 | Report abuse |
    • Sam

      They originated from large farms producing crappy meat, I don't eat store beef because I know the truth about it, only eat meat produced in my area, and I am still likely exposed to those disease"s harmless counterpart/ a similar harmless variation

      September 25, 2012 at 17:10 | Report abuse |
    • mephi

      actually, isn't the immune system built up by being exposed to virus' and then building up antibodies to said pathogens? So in essence, those large city dwellers are actually exposed to more than small town folk just by the very nature of being around so many more "germ factories"....So, yeah, your statement kind of falls flat. That being said, antibiotics don't work on viruses anyway, they treat bacterial infections so even you, with your puffed up immunity, would be in trouble.... Sorry.....

      September 26, 2012 at 13:27 | Report abuse |
    • killed by kindness

      Yes, but, when we all die from the bad meats you will have to deal with the lawness wasteland that will result. Can your body fight off a criminal created lead projectile infection?

      September 26, 2012 at 16:43 | Report abuse |
  5. ArchieDeBunker

    That sign in the picture at the top "Wash hands before masking" reminded me of an incident that happened to me once. I was working in the same office with a guy from Serbia – a tough old codger who had lived through the worst of the troubles back in the '90's and spoke heavily accented English. I happened to be in the restroom at the same time he was one day.

    As we washed our hands he said "Do you know deeference between Blue Collar Worker and White Collar Worker?"

    'No, I don't," I replied.

    "Blue Collar Worker washes hands BEFORE going to bathroom – HAR! HAR! HAR! HAR! HAR!

    September 25, 2012 at 18:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • killed by kindness

      White collar workers get fired if they do anything that requires them to wash their hands.

      September 26, 2012 at 16:38 | Report abuse |
    • Ron

      Bull ! I wasn't allowed the time to wash my hands first and I was a Diesel Mechanic.

      May 16, 2013 at 00:41 | Report abuse |
  6. Larry

    Is it possible we are seeing the results of a bio-weapon attack? Could a middle eastern dictator have gotten SARS samples and then created a weaponized virus base on it? More deadly but non/less contagious to avoid having it back fire against them?

    September 25, 2012 at 22:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. mr774

    "There's no evidence yet that these viruses are readily transmissible,"

    But we should consider mutation of this virus.

    September 26, 2012 at 02:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. killed by kindness

    The fools who allow dangerous illness to be shipped around the world like new cars should be shot. England could have suffered millions of deaths from the idi0ts who sent the newest killing bug to them.

    September 26, 2012 at 16:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Imran

    Great set of images and, as usual, a load of other cnsiarpmoos waiting to be done.One point of issue with Dynamic above. The big problem with DDT is not that it gets used, but how it gets used. Impregnated mozzie nets is one thing (anyone done any longitudinal studies on birth defects in the children of people who sleep in a DDT environment as children?) but random bulk spraying in the environment to kill the pupae and anything else downwind is NOT a good idea. Rachel Carson was not kidding.While we are getting squirrely about toxic environments, check (Linked from )

    October 11, 2012 at 12:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Aacon

    Any virus has to be able to adapt to it`s environment to survive to reproduce.They should have taken the sick people that died and take the one ill body temperature down and kept it down for a set period of time in a medically induce coma to where the body could survive,but the virus not able to live in such a colder environment because it could not adapt.Also they need to be checking caves where bats are and see if the virus is living in the huge piles of bat dung,especially the bats that feed on animals blood,or fruit.If the bats carry it and bite an animal to feed from their blood then the animal can carry it,and if fruit or other things humans eat is bitten,then the fruit or other things can carry it since the temperature would be higher in such things in the Saudi heat.In the case where one patient caught the virus from the one he shared living space with,then it could have been from eating the same infected food instead of airborne.If airborne it could be because of very close contact with the expelled air of the one infected first.This virus probably could not survive in very cold conditions,thus lowering body temperature of infected persons could very well be the only way so far to defeat it until we know how to vaccinate,if a vaccine can even be made for this type virus.While it is so far seen in only one area we need to find the major source of where it is living and exterminate it at the source before it goes global.

    May 28, 2013 at 23:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Ratttlr

    Hm. So is the image and that headline intended to be terrorizing, or is it just an accident? Hopefully it's just an accident, otherwise cnn would be practicing a type of psychologicl terrorism. No one would do that on purpose, right? That would make them sociopathic or something, right?

    May 29, 2013 at 02:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Ratttlr

    Was referring to lead article: New Virus Threat To Entire World. And the micro-shot of the virus. So comforting, isn't it?

    May 29, 2013 at 02:44 | Report abuse | Reply
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