Sars-like virus spreads person-to-person in the UK

Relative of Manchester patient now in hospital with infection

Health Editor

The first case of human to human transmission of a potentially fatal respiratory illness similar to the deadly Sars (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) was confirmed in Britain today.

The patient is in a stable condition in intensive care in Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, and is believed to have caught the infection from a close family relative who had travelled to the Middle East.

The relative is seriously ill and was transferred from Birmingham to Wythenshawe hospital, Manchester, this week for treatment on an ECMO machine, a last resort  to oxygenate the blood when the lungs have failed.

A third patient, the first in the UK who was flown here  from Quatar for treatment, has been seriously ill in St Thomas’ Hospital, London since September.

UK laboratories have been put on alert to test all new cases of unexplained severe pneumonia for the virus, to prevent a potentially lethal  outbreak .

The Health Protection Agency said the current risk was “low” because the virus had “limited” capacity to spread. But a spokesperson for the agency added: “It could mutate. We don’t know how it will behave.”

The illness is caused by a novel type of coronavirus, a family of viruses responsible for infections ranging  from the common cold to severe pneumonia. In 2003, a novel coronavirus caused  an outbreak of SARS in the Far East which spread to 20 countries within a month, led to hundreds of deaths and triggered a global panic.

The new virus  is distantly related to the SARS virus, and has so far claimed the lives of half of those infected. But experts emphasised yesterday it was not the same.  SARS infected almost 9,000 people and caused over 800 deaths worldwide in less than six months.

However, in spreading  from human to human in Britain, the new virus has already achieved what the SARS virus did not. Only  four cases of SARS were recorded in Britain, all imported and none contracted here.   

Professor John Watson, head of the respiratory diseases department at the HPA, said: “To date, evidence of person-to-person transmission has been limited. 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 the 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. However, this new development does justify the measures that were immediately put into place to prevent any further spread of infection and to identify and follow up contacts of known cases.”

The patient who contracted the illness in Britain had an existing medical condition which was likely to have made them more susceptible to infection, as well as being a close relative of the earlier case, Professor Watson said. It was not therefore an indication of the likely risk to the wider community.

 The novel coronavirus responsible for the illness was first identified last September in a patient who had died the previous June and is believed to have come from contact with bats.  Previous  cases have been identified in Quatar, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Some suffered  kidney failure as well as serious respiratory problems.

The World Health Organisation said it was closely monitoring the situation and working to “ensure a high degree of preparedness should the new virus be found to be sufficiently transmissible to cause community outbreaks.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Media Telesales Executive

    £20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Ashdown Group: HR administrator - London - £35,000

    £30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Office and HR Administrat...

    Recruitment Genius: Middleweight Designer

    £25000 - £26500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The On-Site division of the UK'...

    Sauce Recruitment: Financial Accountant -Home Entertainment

    £200 - £250 per day: Sauce Recruitment: 6 month contract (Initially)A global e...

    Day In a Page

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project