In Japan, people are nervous about a new virus, one similar to SARS. It’s just flared up in rural areas in the south, the Middle East, India and Pakistan. In Japan, it is an E. coli strain that appears to have caused illnesses in a population of at least 30 people, although a primary focus of investigation is why it is affecting the elderly and morbidly obese in particular.

Affected people have been hospitalized after some showed signs of severe disease, and no deaths have been reported yet. However, in the northern island of Hokkaido last year, more than 500 people had to go to the hospital due to an outbreak of the same virus, and at least four died.

This could be considered a new strain of coronavirus — the SARS virus arose in the Middle East around the time of the 2003 outbreak in Asia, and this new strain might be called the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus. Because SARS is no longer a threat, many have seen it as a legitimate worry. Some experts, like the University of Washington’s Dr. Julian, are very skeptical.

But others are not. Dr. Shyam Veerasamy, an infectious disease specialist at Indiana University, thinks that humans are simply “walking the land of pollution and not being targeted by our immune system, as we should be.” According to him, other conditions could be contributing to some of the cases. “These aged people, the very, very obese people, are really choosing to ignore the warnings from their doctors,” he said.

It is common for the elderly to have more ailments. But as with SARS, evidence has only just started to emerge. The potential connection between this new coronavirus and previous outbreaks of SARS needs to be followed closely, and health officials are trying to find out who is most susceptible.