As with most emerging epidemics, we usually ignore them until people start dying. If the same logic applies here, its time to begin paying attention to the new SARS-like virus found in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. While only six cases have been identified so far, two of the patients died, suggesting that the survival rate isn't stellar.
According to Reuters, the World Health Organization  (WHO) originally issued an international alert in late September saying a virus previously unknown in humans had infected a Qatari man who had recently been in Saudi Arabia, where another man with the same virus had died.
On Friday, November 23, the WHO said in an outbreak update that it had registered four more cases and one of the new patients had died.
The additional cases have been identified as part of the enhanced surveillance in Saudi Arabia (3 cases, including 1 death) and Qatar (1 case), the WHO statement said.
The new virus  is a coronavirus with similar symptoms to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome ), which emerged in China in 2002 and killed around a 10th of the 8,000 people it infected worldwide. Typical symptoms include coughing, difficulty breathing and high fever. It spreads like other respiratory viruses, through releasing viral particles from coughing and sneezing which then find new hosts in the general vicinity.
The WHO said investigations were being conducted into the likely source of the infection, the method of exposure, and the possibility of human-to-human transmission of the virus.
Close contacts of the recently confirmed cases are being identified and followed-up, it said.
It added that so far, only the two most recently confirmed cases in Saudi Arabia were epidemiologically linked they were from the same family, living in the same household.
Preliminary investigations indicate that these two cases presented with similar symptoms of illness. One died and the other recovered, the WHOطs statement said.
Grounds for alarm? No, but thereطs enough information coming out now that paying attention is warranted.