* Virus is different from any previously found in humans
* International authorities on alert, no evidence of spread
* Virus from same family as SARS and common cold
* Only two confirmed cases worldwide so far
(Adds fresh comment, UK advice to health workers)
By Kate Kelland, Health and Science Correspondent
LONDON, Sept 24 A Qatari man struck down with a
previously unknown virus related to the deadly SARS infection
and the common cold is critically ill in hospital in Britain,
the World Health Organisation said on Monday.
The U.N. health body put out a global alert on Sunday saying
a new virus had infected the 49-year-old man who had recently
travelled to Saudi Arabia - where another man with an almost
identical virus had already died.
Britain's Health Protection Agency (HPA) and respiratory
disease experts said there was no immediate cause for concern,
although authorities were watching out for any signs of the
"This new virus ... is different from any that have
previously been identified in humans," the HPA said.
Any suggestions of a link between the virus and Saudi Arabia
will cause particular concern in the build-up to next month's
Muslim haj pilgrimage, when millions of people arrive in the
kingdom from across the world, then return to their homes.
The virus, known as a coronavirus, comes from the same
family as SARS which emerged in 2002 and killed 800 people.
"This is now an international issue," WHO spokesman Gregory
Hartl said. "The (Qatari) patient is still alive but, as we
understand, in critical condition," he said.
The HPA said it was recommending the Qatari patient be
treated in isolation by doctors and nurses wearing gowns, gloves
respirators, goggles and other protective equipment.
It did not recommend any specific actions for travellers or
other members of the public.
The Qatari man first showed symptoms of an acute respiratory
infection while he was in Qatar, the WHO said.
He spent some time in intensive case in Qatar and was later
flown to the UK where he was currently in a London hospital's
intensive care unit, being treated for acute respiratory
infection and kidney failure. Officials declined to name the
Andrew Easton, a virologist at Britain's University of
Warwick, said that with only two cases so far, it was difficult
for experts to estimate the potential threat.
"The important thing is to be aware of the virus and to be
on the lookout for any evidence that it is more than a rare
chance event," he said.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that includes
causes of the common cold but can also include more severe
illness such as the virus responsible for SARS.
SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, appeared in
China in 2002 and infected more than 8,000 people worldwide,
killing around 800 of them before being brought under control.
John Oxford, a professor of Virology at Queen Mary,
University of London, said he was not too concerned as the new
virus was "more likely to join numerous other members of the
coronavirus family and behave like a nasty infection rather than
join the exception group like SARS".
"SARS was very quick off the mark infecting hospital staff,"
he said in an emailed comment. "And this new virus does not to
me appear to be in the same 'big bang' group."
The WHO said it was in touch with health authorities in
Britain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the Stockholm-based European
Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC)
"We're asking for information from whoever might have seen
such cases, but as of the moment we haven't had any more
notifications of cases," said Hartl.
The HPA said it had conducted lab testing on Qatari case and
found a 99.5 percent match to a virus that killed a 60-year-old
Saudi national earlier this year. The Saudi man's virus was not
identified as a new kind of infection at the time of his death.
There was no evidence of ongoing transmission, said the head
of the HPA's respiratory diseases department, John Watson.
"In the light of the severity of the illness that has been
identified in the two confirmed cases, immediate steps have been
taken to ensure that people who have been in contact with the UK
case have not been infected, and there is no evidence to suggest
they have," he said.
(Additional reporting by Angus McDowall in Riyadh; Editing by