Suspected fifth case of lethal virus in UK

Charles Arthur Technology Editor
Tuesday 07 January 2014 02:05
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Doctors in an east of England hospital are treating what may be the fifth case of the potentially lethal Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) virus in Britain. The patient is said to have recently returned from Taiwan.

A team in Manchester is also testing a woman who was the fourth case of Sars, who had been to Singapore and returned to the UK on 25 March before being admitted to hospital on 2 April.

The Health Protection Agency said the fifth probable victim is a man who returned to Britain on 29 March. He admitted himself to hospital on Saturday but is not in intensive care. The hospital said his condition was "stable".

The disease has continued to take its toll around the Guangdong region of China, where it is believed to have originated in September. A Finnish man and five more Chinese people died there yesterday, bringing the total who have died to at least 96, while almost 2,600 have fallen ill from it in more than a dozen countries. Hong Kong has had nearly one third of all cases, with a further 44 cases and two deaths reported yesterday.

Sars causes fever, a dry cough and breathing difficulties often coupled with pneumonia. The mortality rate is about three to four per cent. Average mortality for normal flu is less than one per cent. Sars is thought to be spread by contaminated droplets transmitted by sneezing or on common surfaces such as doorknobs.

Doctors in the Manchester case said the woman had not shown symptoms of the illness during her flight, so authorities had decided it was not necessary to contact the other passengers on her inbound flight. Three other people have been treated for Sars in London hospitals and released after making full recoveries.

Meanwhile, pressure was growing on China to be more open about when the disease first appeared and why it had not alerted world health authorities. The director of the World Health Organisation, Gro Harlem Brundtland, added to widespread criticism of China but said the country was now fully co-operating fully with her organisation.

Britain is still advising against non-essential travel to Hong Kong and Guangdong, and many organisations have implemented informal quarantine arrangements on staff who have recently returned from the region.

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