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New Sars-like virus 'can spread between people'

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

13th February 2013 - The Health Protection Agency says a new respiratory illness, similar to the deadly Sars virus, has probably spread from person-to-person in the UK.

Previous cases have been seen in people who've returned from visits abroad. The latest case of novel coronavirus infection in Birmingham is in a person who hasn’t been abroad recently and is thought to have caught it from a relative.

However, officials say the threat of the infection spreading across the population remains very low.


Many coronaviruses are not a cause for concern. Some strains cause the common cold but also include Sars or severe acute respiratory syndrome.

The new coronavirus was first identified in September last year in a patient who died from a severe respiratory infection earlier in the year.

The virus caused serious respiratory illness in the patient who presented with fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.

The HPA says 11 laboratory confirmed cases have now been seen worldwide, including three deaths in Saudi Arabia and two deaths in Jordan.

Previous UK cases have been seen in people who'd travelled to Qatar, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Person-to-person transmission

On Monday, the Health Protection Agency confirmed a case of novel coronavirus in a UK resident who had recently been to the Middle East and Pakistan.

The new infection is in a family member who'd not travelled recently. They are in intensive care at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. The HPA understands this person has an existing medical condition making them more susceptible to respiratory infections.

In a statement, Professor John Watson, head of the respiratory diseases department at the HPA says: "Confirmed novel coronavirus infection in a person without travel history to the Middle East suggests that person-to-person transmission has occurred, and that it occurred in the UK.

"Although this case provides strong evidence for person to person transmission, the risk of infection in most circumstances is still considered to be very low. If novel coronavirus were more infectious, we would have expected to have seen a larger number of cases than we have seen since the first case was reported three months ago."
The HPA says special measures have been put in place to stop infection spreading and advice and support has been given to healthcare workers looking after the patients.

Reviewed on February 13, 2013

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