A new virus from the same family as Sars, which was discovered and sparked a global alert in September, has killed two people in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The total number of cases has risen to six, the World Health Organisation said yesterday.
The UN health agency issued a global alert in late September saying a virus previously unknown in humans had infected a 49-year-old Qatari who had recently travelled to Saudi Arabia, where another man with the same virus had died.
Yesterday, the agency said in a disease outbreak update that it had registered four more cases and that 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 said.
Germany's Robert Koch Institute said the patient who fell ill in Qatar in October was brought to Germany for treatment in a speciality clinic and recovered after a month and was released this week.
Britain's Health Protection Agency confirmed, based on samples that were sent from Qatar, that he was sickened by a new coronavirus, the Koch Institute said.
Unlike Sars, the Koch institute says there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission in the patient treated in Germany.
The new virus is known as a coronavirus and shares some of the symptoms of Sars, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which emerged in China in 2002 and killed around a tenth of the 8,000 people it infected worldwide.
Among the symptoms in the confirmed cases are a fever, coughing and breathing difficulties.
Coronaviruses are typically spread like other respiratory infections, such as flu, travelling in airborne droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
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.
The WHO urged all its member states to continue surveillance for severe acute respiratory infections.