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Third person sickened by SARS-like mystery virus in Middle East

RIYADH, Saudi ArabiaSaudi Arabia's Health Ministry has confirmed that a second person in the kingdom has contracted a new respiratory virus related to SARS, bringing to three the number of those sickened by it in the Gulf region in recent weeks.

One of the patients had been a Saudi Arabian man who died several months ago, officials reported in September, while the other was a Qatari national who traveled to Saudi Arabia before falling ill and had to be hospitalized in London.

The Ministry in a statement Monday said the unidentified third patient was hospitalized with "pneumonia caused by the new virus known as novel Coronavirus." It said the patient has since recovered from his pneumonia, adding that he had not traveled outside Riyadh. It did not say when, where, or how the person contracted the virus.

The germ is a coronavirus, 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.

The World Health Organization had announced in September that the virus may be caused by animals and is "not easily transmitted from person to person."

Officials initially expressed concern the virus could spread during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, but in October the Saudi Health Ministry said the virus did not pose a threat to those traveling to the region.

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