Though the SARS virus first occurred nearly a decade ago, a virus believed to be similar to it has just hit the Middle East -- and it has claimed one life.
As reported by Yahoo! News, British health authorities alerted the U.N. of a new respiratory virus in a severely ill patient who recently traveled to Saudia Arabia, where a Middle Easterner died earlier this year from a similar illness. He is currently being treated in a London hospital for complications caused by the virus, including kidney failure.
The Health Protection Agency reports that the man visited a private clinic in the Middle East before being transferred to a London hospital. It is unclear if he will survive the effects of this new SARS-like virus.
Although officials have not officially called it a new SARS virus, it reportedly shares many characteristics consistent with a SARS. According to the CDC, symptoms of the SARS virus include a high fever, body aches, mild respiratory symptoms, headache and general discomfort. Up to 20 percent of SARS sufferers also experience diarrhea. Over time, many patients develop pneumonia, which can be fatal.
SARS-like viruses often spread through person-to-person contact, such as being near an infected person who sneezes, or touching an object that was previously handled by an infected person. This couldn't have come at a worse time: Next month marks the annual Hajj pilgrimage, which takes place in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. If there are indeed more people with this virus in Saudi Arabia, the Hajj pilgrimage could cause the virus to spread, potentially turning it into an epidemic.
How to avoid the new SARS virus
While complete protection from this new SARS-like virus is not possible, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene offer these tips:
- Wash your hands frequently.
- Do not handle items that have been previously handled by a sick person.
- Avoid traveling to places with a known SARS outbreak.
- If you experience symptoms of the SARS virus, notify your doctor.
If you are planning to make the Hajj pilgrimage, here's more advice: Be extra vigilant about keeping clean. Wash your hands regularly using unscented soap and avoid contact with people who appear obviously sick. If you experience any symptoms of the SARS virus, seek medical help immediately.
Ann Olson is a freelance health journalist whose work has been featured on Yahoo! Health and Livestrong.