UM Health Expert: New SARS-like Virus Carries Similar Risks

Updated: 02/11/2013 10:41 PM KSTP.com By: Naomi Pescovitz

Ten years ago, the world was in the midst of a deadly pandemic. The viral respiratory illness SARS had spread to dozens of nations worldwide.

Now health experts are looking at a new SARS-like virus, the World Health Organization refers to as novel coronavirus.

The national health community first started warning the public about the virus last fall. There have now been 10 confirmed cases, five of those people have died.

All of the cases have links to the Middle East. Five cases came out of Saudi Arabia, two originated in Qatar and two came out of Jordan. The most recent case, the first in 2013, is a U.K. Resident who recently visited Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

The new virus is a member the coronavirus family, the same group as SARS.

"It would have all the same potential frightening elements to it. Meaning that it surely could be highly transmissible, it could be a virus that could cause very serious illness and require intensive care hospitalization and the first 10 cases surely give us that evidence," said Dr. Michael Osterholm, Director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. 

Experts believe bats are the original source. Bats may have infected other animals, which then passed the virus onto humans.
It is possible the virus may also be transmissible person to person.

"After enough human infections the virus adapts enough so that actually people can spread it to each other. That's when you see potential for a global pandemic because today with modern transportation, this virus could be around the world overnight," Osterholm said.

At this stage the virus is unpredictable.

"Is it in fact going to really just die out, is it going to have these sporadic occasional infections occur, or is it going to actually blow, as we would say, and develop the ability to be transmitted by humans. And if that were to occur, then we really would be on the edge of a global pandemic," Osterholm said.