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World Health Organization: Six confirmed cases of SARS-like coronavirus in Middle East

A patient from Qatar has been confirmed with a new type of coronavirus, but it has shown no signs of being easily transmitted like the related virus that caused the 2003 global SARS outbreak, Germany's national health institute said Friday.

Germany's Robert Koch Institute said the patient fell ill in Qatar in October with severe respiratory problems. He was then brought to Germany for treatment in a specialty clinic and recovered after a month and was released this week.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also said in a statement Friday that it has been notified of four new cases of the disease --- three in Saudi Arabia including one death, plus the Qatar national -- bringing the total confirmed cases of the mystery virus to six infected. One patient from Qatar and one patient from Saudi Arabia were the earlier reported cases.

As a precaution, the WHO advised medical authorities around the world to test any patients with unexplained pneumonias for the virus. Previously, the organization had only advised testing patients who had been to either Qatar or Saudi Arabia.

"Until more information is available, it is prudent to consider that the virus is likely more widely distributed than just the two countries which have identified cases," the WHO said.

Unlike SARS, the Koch institute says there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission in the patient treated in Germany.

"The Robert Koch Institute's assessment of the risk remains that the possibility of becoming infected in Germany is very low," the institute said.

Still, WHO reported a cluster of cases in a family in Saudi Arabia, where one person died and the other recovered. Two other members of the same family fell ill with similar symptoms.

The WHO is currently investigating people who were in close contact with the recently infected cases.

One person who recovered from the illness tested negative while lab results are pending for the other family member, who died. Health officials always keep a close eye on any clusters of unusual viruses within families, since they may suggest the possibility of human-to-human spread.

About 8,500 people were affected by SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, in 2003 and about 900 died.

The WHO said it was continuing to work with the governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other international health partners to gain a better understanding of the virus.

Health officials have previously said the illness shows a close link to bat viruses, but other animals may also be implicated.

"Further epidemiological and scientific studies are needed to better understand the virus," the organization said.

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