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Coronavirus can spread between people

Home-grown case implies person to person transmission

Jo Carlowe

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

A new case of novel coronavirus infection contracted by a UK resident suggests ‘strong evidence’ of person to person transmission.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) today confirmed the new case seen in a patient who has not had any recent travel history. The patient is currently receiving intensive care treatment at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. It is understood that this patient has an existing medical condition that may make them more susceptible to respiratory infections.

Coronaviruses are causes of the common cold but can also include more severe illness, such as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). This new coronavirus was first identified in September 2012 in a patient who died from a severe respiratory infection in June 2012. The virus has so far only been identified in a small number of cases of acute, serious respiratory illness who presented with fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties.

This latest case brings the total number of confirmed cases globally to 11, of which three have been diagnosed in the UK.

Professor John Watson, head of the respiratory diseases department at the HPA, said: "Confirmed novel coronavirus infection in a person without travel history to the Middle East suggests that person-to-person transmission has occurred, and that it occurred in the UK. This case is a family member who was in close personal contact with the earlier case and who may have been at greater risk of acquiring an infection because of their underlying health condition.

“To date, evidence of person-to-person transmission has been limited.”

Professor Watson added: “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 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.

“We will continue to provide advice and support to healthcare workers looking after the patients and to contacts of both cases.”

The HPA has stressed that the risk to the general population remains low.

"In light of this latest case we would like to emphasise that the risk associated with novel coronavirus to the general UK population remains very low. The HPA will continue to work closely with national and international health authorities and will share any further advice with health professionals and the public if and when more information becomes available,” said Professor Watson.

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