Two people have become infected with a new type of respiratory illness similar to the Sars virus. More information has been revealed about the infectious agent and it does not appear as dangerous as first thought.
According to the BBC, a 49-year-old man, who arrived from Qatar, is being treated in a London hospital in relation to a respiratory virus. This is the second reported case of the same viral strain, as the Digital Journal has reported on earlier. Since then, more details have emerged about the infectious agent. The virus has been confirmed as a coronavirus.
The previous case related to someone who was ill with the virus in Saudi Arabia (and who subsequently died). The symptoms of both patients were fever, cough and breathing difficulties. Symptoms which are very similar to those caused by influenza viruses.
Coronaviruses primarily infect the upper respiratory and gastrointestinal tract of mammals and birds. Four to five different currently known strains of coronaviruses infect humans. The most publicized human coronavirus, SARS-CoV which causes SARS, has a unique pathogenesis because it causes both upper and lower respiratory tract infections and can also cause gastroenteritis.
In relation to the incidents, Professor John Watson, head of the respiratory diseases department at the UK's Health Protection Agency, is quoted by the Slate as saying:
"In the light of the severity of the illness that has been identified in the two confirmed cases, immediate steps have been taken to ensure that people who have been in contact with the UK case have not been infected, and there is no evidence to suggest that they have. Further information about these cases is being developed for healthcare workers in the UK, as well as advice to help maintain increased vigilance for this virus."
According to The Guardian, coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which includes ones that cause the common cold and Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome). Although such viruses are well known, the new virus is different to any coronaviruses that have previously been identified. Importantly, the new virus is not Sars.
It is likely the virus is spread in droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. However, the Health Protection Agency does not think there is a significant risk of infection:
“Transmission appears to be very limited as, if it were very contagious, we would have expected to have seen more cases in other countries or the people caring for these two cases, the first of which occurred over three months ago.”
To date there is no evidence of the virus spreading from person to person.