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New Respiratory Coronavirus Claims Second Victim

Another person with a severe acute respiratory infection (SARI) caused by a novel coronavirus 2012 has died, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Friday. The second victim, like the first, died in Saudi Arabia.

The announcement follows enhanced surveillance in Saudi Arabia and Qatar that has identified 4 new cases (3 in Saudi Arabia, 1 in Qatar), including the second death, the United Nations health agency reports.

Human coronoviruses are so called because of the crown-like projections on their surfaces. First identified in the 1960s, they are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses in animals and humans.

The illnesses they cause include respiratory infections such as the common cold and SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). In 2002, an oubreak of SARS spread from Hong Kong around the world, killing around 800 people.

However, according to information published on the WHO website at the end of September, the new coronavirus is genetically quite distinct from SARS.

The WHO says globally, the total of lab-confirmed cases of novel coronavirus 2012 notified to them is now 6, with 4 of them (including 2 deaths) linked to Saudi Arabia and 2 to Qatar (one reported from the UK and the other from Germany).

Two of the recently confirmed cases in Saudi Arabia are "epidemiologically linked" and from the same family and household. One person died and the other has since recovered, says the WHO.

Two other family members have also been tested: so far one is negative and the result of the other is not yet available.

According to the UK's Health Protection Agency (HPA), the newly reported case from Qatar, was lab-confirmed by them in November. The patient was initially treated in Qatar in October, but then transferred to Germany, and has now been discharged.

The WHO is now reviewing these new developments to see if there is a need to revise the interim case definition it published at the end of September, and any guidance relating to it.

The UN agency says in the meantime:

"Investigations are ongoing in areas of epidemiology, clinical management, and virology, to look into the likely source of infection, the route 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."

The international agency says there is a need for more studies to better understand the virus, and encourages all members of the UN to continue their surveillance of severe acute respiratory infections (SARI).

It is likely the virus is present in more than just two countries, says the WHO, and it suggests patients with unexplained pneumonias should be tested for the new coronavirus, even if they have not been travelling to the two affected countries or are otherwise associated with them.

"In addition, any clusters of SARI or SARI in health care workers should be thoroughly investigated regardless of where in the world they occur," it urges.

More information from the WHO on coronavirus infections.

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