Third novel coronavirus infection reported in UK family

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Feb 15, 2013 (CIDRAP News) – A third member of a British family has been infected with a novel coronavirus (CoV) but has had only a mild illness, UK health officials reported today, providing more evidence of person-to-person transmission of the virus and showing that it doesn't always cause severe sickness.

In a statement, the UK Health Protection agency (HPA) said the patient is a UK resident with no recent travel history and "is recovering from a mild respiratory illness and is currently well." The case raises the global total of novel CoV cases to 12, of which 5 have been fatal.

The latest case is in a family in which two other members were recently hospitalized with severe illnesses linked to the novel virus. The first case was announced Feb 11 and the second one Feb 13. The first patient got sick in January while visiting Saudi Arabia, following a visit to Pakistan; the second patient had no recent travel history.

The HPA did not list the age or gender of the third patient in the family. The other two sick family members are both men. The first patient, a 60-year-old, was co-infected with the novel CoV and the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus, while the second patient has an underlying medical condition, previous reports said.

Despite the likelihood of person-to-person transmission in the latest cases, UK officials repeated previous statements that the risk of contracting the new virus is still regarded as generally low.

John Watson, MB BS, MSc, head of the HPA's respiratory diseases department, said the patient has been advised to avoid contact with people outside his or her household. The agency is monitoring other household members and contacts of the patient.

"Although this case appears to be due to person-to-person transmission, the risk of infection in contacts in most circumstances is still considered to be low," Watson said. "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."

"We would like to emphasize that the risk associated with novel coronavirus to the general UK population remains very low," Watson added.

The novel CoV illnesses to date have included 5 in Saudi Arabia, with 3 deaths; 2 fatal cases in Jordan; 1 nonfatal illness in Germany; and 4 in the UK. Of the UK cases, one was in a Qatari man who was still hospitalized this week, with the family cluster accounting for the rest.

The UK family cluster is apparently the third cluster of novel CoV infections so far. Three of the Saudi cases were in one family, and the two Jordanian deaths were part of a cluster in a hospital intensive care unit.

Until the latest UK case, all the confirmed novel CoV case-patients were sick enough to need hospitalization.

Except for the two latest cases, all the patients lived in or had visited the Arabian peninsula. The novel virus is related to coronaviruses found in bats in several countries, but its source has not been identified.

The virus was first reported in September, in a Saudi man who had died in June, and in the Qatari patient who is still being treated in the United Kingdom. The two cases in Jordan occurred in April but were not linked to the new virus until November.

See also:

Feb 15 UK HPA statement

Feb 13 CIDRAP News story "Britain reports novel coronavirus family cluster"

Feb 11 CIDRAP News story "Novel coronavirus case in UK raises global total to 10"

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