Acute Respiratory Illness Associated with a New Virus Identified in the UK

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Britain's Health Protection Agency (HPA) is confirming the diagnosis of one laboratory-confirmed case of severe respiratory illness associated with a new type of coronavirus. The patient, who is from the Middle East and recently arrived in the UK, is receiving intensive care treatment in a London hospital. In recent months, this new human coronavirus was also identified in a patient with acute respiratory illness in Saudi Arabia, who subsequently died.

Coronaviruses are causes of the common cold but can also include more severe illness, such as the virus responsible for SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). This new virus, however, is different from any that have previously been identified in humans. Preliminary enquiries have revealed no evidence of illness in contacts of these two cases, including healthcare workers. Based on what we know about other coronaviruses, many of these contacts will already have passed the period when they could have caught the virus from the infected person.

The HPA is also aware of a small number of other cases of serious respiratory illness in the Middle East in the past three months, one of whom was treated in the UK but has since died. This person's illness is also being investigated although there is no evidence at present to suggest that it is caused by the same virus or linked to the other two cases. No other confirmed cases have been identified to date in the UK.

Professor John Watson, head of the respiratory diseases department at the HPA, says, "The HPA is providing advice to healthcare workers to ensure the patient under investigation is being treated appropriately. 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. This information is also being shared with national and international authorities including the World Health Organization and the European Centre for Disease Control. As we are aware of only two cases worldwide and there is no specific evidence of ongoing transmission, at present there is no specific advice for the public or returning travellers to take but we will share any further advice with the public as soon as more information becomes available."

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