SARS-like coronavirus leaves international travel safety in limbo, officials wary


A new coronavirus has been identified by health officials, thus reinvigorating international anxiety over the possible resurfacing of the SARS virus, which took hundreds of lives worldwide in 2003.

Reports confirm that a SARS-like virus was recently found in a Qatari man — a 49-year-old who is currently receiving treatment for kidney failure in an isolated London intensive-care unit. The Qatari patient’s virus is said to match another virus sample discovered by Dutch researchers within a Saudi Arabian male earlier in the year; the latter patient has since died from his infection. As a result of such instances, officials believe the new coronavirus stems from the Middle East.

Although the World Health Organization’s (WHO) statement, released on Sunday, does not call for travel restrictions, news of the pathogen has many experts and world citizens on edge wondering whether or not yet another SARS epidemic will ravage the globe.

“It’s still [in the] very early days,” Gregory Hartl, a WHO spokesperson, told the Associated Press. “At the moment, we have two sporadic cases, and there are still a lot of holes to be filled in.”

“We don’t know if this is going to turn into another SARS or if it will disappear into nothing,” Michael Osterholm, a flu expert at the University of Minnesota, added in a Times interview.

Yet, on the grounds of the strain’s severity, Osterholm was quick to note: “You don’t die from the common cold,” he said. “This gives us reason to think it might be more like SARS.”

In 2003, civet cats in China spread the SARS virus to humans and the resulting infection devastation took some 800 human lives [nearly 12 percent of the total infected]. Ferried from person-to-person via sneezed or coughed air droplets, infected air travelers often shared the disease unwittingly with fellow international passengers. While the present coronavirus is not thought to be very contagious, according to the BBC, doctors still believe that it can be dispersed through the same channels as its predecessor.

Common symptoms of SARS are headache, high fever, cough and eventually respiratory issues, specifically increased trouble breathing. Incubation periods are typically 2 to 7 days, but stretches of up to 10 and 14 days have been reported.

The following precautions should be directed to patients, especially those intent on traveling, as a means to lessen risk of contracting the new coronavirus:

  • Make sure to keep hands clean by washing with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand rubs.
  • Avoid touching of the eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands.
  • Encourage those in close-corridors to cover their mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing [as such, it is helpful to have tissues on hand at all times when traveling].
  • Use sanitizing wipes to clean an area. A BBC statement: “Coronaviruses are fairly fragile. Outside of the body they can only survive for a day and are easily destroyed by usual detergents and cleaning agents.”

Treating inflicted patients quickly with the proper antibiotics as well as providing respiratory aide are the best methods used to control coronavirus infections; physicians should be sure to urge their internationally traveling patients to contact them as soon as possible if symptoms arise.

Image courtesy of Eigene Herstellung via creative commons licensing.