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Qatari critically ill in Britain with new SARS-type virus

LONDON -- A Qatari man struck down with a previously unknown virus related to the deadly SARS infection and the common cold is critically ill in hospital in Britain, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday.

The U.N. health body put out a global alert on Sunday about the 49-year-old man who had recently travelled to Saudi Arabia — where it said a second patient with an almost identical virus had already died.

A senior British health official said there was no immediate cause for concern although experts were watching out for any signs of the virus spreading.

Any suggestions of a link between the virus and Saudi Arabia will cause particular concern in the build-up to next month's Muslim hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people arrive in the kingdom from across the world, then return to their homes.

 The virus, known as a coronavirus, comes from the same family as the SARS infection that emerged in 2002 and killed 800 people.

“This is now an international issue because we have a case in the UK and one in Saudi,” WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said.

“The (Qatari) patient is still alive but, as we understand, in critical condition,” he said.

The Qatari man first showed symptoms of an acute respiratory infection and kidney failure while he was in Qatar, the WHO said.

He spent some time in intensive case in Qatar and was later flown to the UK where he was being treated in a London hospital, said authorities, declining to say which one.

Laboratory tests on the Qatari man showed his virus was almost identical to one that killed a Saudi patient earlier this year, the WHO said. The Saudi man's virus was not identified as a new kind of infection at the time of his death.

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