RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) -- Saudi Arabia's Health Ministry said Thursday that five people have died and two other patients were in critical condition with confirmed cases of a new respiratory virus related to SARS.
The ministry said in a statement that it had informed the World Health Organization of the seven new cases of novel coronavirus.
The germ is from a family of viruses that cause the common cold, as well as SARS -- the severe acute respiratory syndrome that killed some 800 people, mostly in Asia, in a 2003 epidemic. Health experts still aren't sure how humans are being infected. The new coronavirus, which can cause acute pneumonia and kidney failure, is most closely related to a bat virus and scientists are considering whether bats or other animals like goats or camels are a possible source of infection.
Since September 2012, WHO has been informed of 24 confirmed cases. Sixteen of the patients died.
The new virus was first identified last year in the Middle East and several of the people infected had all traveled to Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan or Pakistan.
WHO says the virus is probably more widespread than just the Middle East and has advised countries to test any people with unexplained pneumonia. In Saudi Arabia last year, four members of the same family fell ill and two died.
The Saudi government is conducting an ongoing investigation into the outbreak.
The seven people who contracted the virus are not from the same family and there is no indication that any of them were in contact with animals or had traveled recently.
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