By Kate Kelland
A Saudi man infected with a deadly new virus from the same family as SARS has died, becoming the ninth patient in the world to be killed the disease which has so far infected 15, the World Health Organisation said on Tuesday.
The 39-year-old developed symptoms of the novel coronavirus (NCoV) on February 24 and died on March 2, several days after being hospitalized, the WHO said in a disease outbreak update.
NCoV is from the same family of viruses as those that cause common colds and the one that caused the deadly outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that first emerged in Asia in 2003. The new virus is not the same as SARS, but similar to it and also to other coronaviruses found in bats.
The WHO first issued an international alert in September after the virus infected a Qatari man in Britain who had recently been in Saudi Arabia.
Symptoms of NCoV include severe respiratory illness, fever, coughing and breathing difficulties.
"Preliminary investigation indicated that the (latest Saudi)patient had no contact with previously reported cases of NCoV infection," the WHO said. "Other potential exposures are under investigation."
Nine of the 15 people confirmed to have been infected with NCoV have died. Most cases have been in the Middle East or in patients who had recently traveled there.
Research by scientists in Europe has found that NCoV is well adapted to infecting humans and may be treatable with medicines similar to the ones used for SARS, which killed a tenth of the 8,000 people it infected.
The Geneva-based WHO said it was monitoring the situation closely and urged its member states to continue surveillance for severe acute respiratory infections and to carefully review any unusual patterns.
"WHO is currently working with international experts and countries where cases have been reported to assess the situation and review recommendations for surveillance and monitoring," it said, adding that national authorities should "promptly assess and notify" it of any new NCoV cases.