RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – 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.