SARS – the potentially deadly respiratory infection that was a huge global news story almost a decade ago – might be back.
Global health officials are keeping their eyes on a SARS-related virus, Coronavirus, that appears to have originated in the Saudi Arabia and has now spread to London.
Spread” might be overstating it; a man from Qatar was transferred to London to be treated. He’s currently in critical condition. Officials say the virus appears to have killed at least one person in Saudi Arabia. The patient now being treated in London had recently traveled to Saudi Arabia.
The virus is in the same family as SARS, the severe acute respiratory syndrome that killed 800 people, mostly in Asia, in a 2003 epidemic. SARS first jumped to humans from cats in China and infected people in more than 30 countries afterspreading from Hong Kong.
But we’re a long way from an epidemic like that. The World Health Organization says that this new virus does not behave like SARS; while both the patient in London and the deceased in Saudi Arabia had severe respiratory symptoms, they also both had kidney failure, which was not associated with the illness back in 2003. Additionally, it appears that no close contacts or health personnel caring for the patients has been infected to date.
The WHO is not recommending any travel restrictions, but travelers should pay close attention to the WHO website as well as other news reports.
One potential concern is next month’s annual Hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. Millions of people will travel to Mecca, and if the airborne virus infects a large number of people before they travel home, it’s possible it could spread very quickly.
So, yes, there’s reason for caution, but nothing more than that right now.
Photo by AJC1.