New Sars-related virus has low public health risk: MOH

SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Health (MOH) said today that based on latest available information, the public health risk due to the unknown virus related to the Sars infection has been assessed to be low.

The announcement comes after the World Health Organisation (WHO) issued a global alert on Sept 23 on two cases of severe respiratory illness due to infection with a novel coronavirus.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses found in both animals and humans. They are a common cause of mild respiratory illness in humans, but are also known to cause outbreaks of severe illness, such as SARS in 2003.

The first case was a 60-year-old male national from Saudi Arabia who died in July this year. The second case was a 49-year-old male Qatari national who had visited Saudi Arabia shortly before his illness.

The second patient is currently receiving treatment for severe respiratory illness in the UK. The virus isolated from both patients has been confirmed to be highly similar.

However, the two cases are not directly linked to each other epidemiologically, MOH said.

As of Sept 25, WHO has not received any reports of additional probable or confirmed cases associated with the novel coronavirus, the statement added.

Thus far, there is no evidence of disease spread among close contacts of the two cases, including among family members and healthcare workers who were in contact with the confirmed cases.

MOH said it is in contact with WHO and other overseas counterparts, and will continue to monitor the situation closely.

Meanwhile, the ministry has stepped up surveillance by alerting all hospitals to be vigilant and to notify MOH immediately of any suspected cases.

There are currently no cases reported in Singapore.

However, returning travellers from Saudi Arabia and Qatar should monitor their health by looking out for signs and symptoms of respiratory illnesses.

These symptoms include fever, cough and/or breathlessness. If they discover themselves to be ill with such symptoms, they should seek early medical attention and inform their doctors of their travel history.