Authorities from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) eased public concerns Thursday after two people in the Middle East were stricken by an illness resembling SARS, after the World Health Organization (WHO) released a global alert saying an infected Qatari man became critically ill following his return from Saudi Arabia.
Chinese tourists do not need to panic given that the previously unknown virus still needs investigation and has not spread widely, said the CDC.
The WHO said Monday that a previously healthy, 49-year-old Qatari national has been reported to be suffering from acute respiratory problems and renal failure after returning from Saudi Arabia.
The UK Health Protection Agency conducted laboratory tests that confirmed the presence of a novel coronavirus, which earlier this year killed a 60-year-old Saudi national.
Healthcare workers should be on alert for people with high fevers who are suffering acute respiratory difficulties. People who have travelled to or live in an area where the infection has recently been reported, or have been in close contact with a probable or confirmed case of the illness should also be investigated, said the WHO.
"The new coronavirus is different from the one that triggered SARS but it can be as severe and as deadly," Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese CDC, told the Global Times. An outbreak of SARS between November 2002 and July 2003 infected more than 8,000 people worldwide and killed some 900, said the WHO.
Although the new virus comes from the same family of viruses that caused SARS, a WHO spokesperson said it is inappropriate to call it SARS-like. The organization continues to investigate the public health implications of the two confirmed cases.
"There are only two confirmed cases, and experts haven't figured out how infectious the virus is, or whether it can spread as rapidly as SARS or even how it spreads," Zeng said.
There has been no other confirmed case of the disease, said the WHO.
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