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New SARS-like virus infects British patient

Agencies | Updated: 2013-02-12 10:51

LONDON - A new virus from the same family as SARS that sparked a global alert last September has been found in another patient in Britain, health officials said on Monday.

The latest case of infection with the new virus known as a coronavirus brings the total number confirmed globally to 10, of whom five have died.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said the latest infection was "a sporadic case" and did not alter the WHO's risk assessment. It added, however, that the new case "does indicate that the virus is persistent".

The British patient, who recently had travelled to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, is receiving intensive care treatment in hospital in the city of Manchester, northern England.

The new virus, which the WHO refers to as novel coronavirus or NCoV, shares some of the symptoms of SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome - a coronavirus which emerged in China in 2002 and killed about a tenth of the 8,000 people it infected worldwide.

Symptoms include severe respiratory illness, fever, coughing and breathing difficulties.

The WHO said the new patient, who is a resident of the United Kingdom, developed symptoms on January 26. A series of laboratory tests of respiratory specimens showed the patient had contracted both an H1N1 swine flu infection and a confirmed NCoV infection.

NCoV was identified when the World Health Organisation (WHO) issued an international alert in September 2012 saying a virus previously unknown in humans had infected a Qatari man who had recently been in Saudi Arabia.  

Britain's Health Protection Agency (HPA) said among the 10 laboratory confirmed cases to date, five had been in Saudi Arabia, with three deaths; two were in Jordan, where both patients died; two were in Britain, where both are receiving treatment; and one was in Germany in a patient from Qatar who had since been discharged from medical care.

The agency said in a statement it was providing advice to ensure the latest patient was treated appropriately and healthcare staff were protected. Anyone who had contact with the patient was being tracked to have a health checkup.

"Our assessment is that the risk associated with novel coronavirus to the general UK population remains extremely low and the risk to travellers to the Arabian Peninsula and surrounding countries remains very low," the HPA said.

Based on the current situation, the WHO said all member states should continue surveillance for severe acute respiratory infections and investigate any unusual patterns.

"Testing for the new coronavirus of patients with unexplained pneumonias, or patients with severe, progressive or complicated illness not responding to treatment, should be considered - especially in persons residing in or returning from the Arabian peninsula and neighbouring countries," it said.

Coronaviruses typically are spread like other respiratory infections, such as flu, travelling in airborne droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes.  

The WHO said in September that from its initial investigations, it appeared this virus did not spread easily from person to person.

The WHO reiterated on Monday that at this stage there was no need for any travel or trade restrictions, or for any special screening at border points.

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