Sars-like virus starts to spread between humans

The world was hit with the original Sars virus in 2003. Picture: AP
The world was hit with the original Sars virus in 2003. Picture: AP
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Health officials in Scotland are on alert for potential cases of a new virus after evidence emerged of the bug spreading between people in the UK.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) in England yesterday revealed that a relative of a UK patient who had recently contracted the potentially fatal new form of the coronavirus overseas had also become infected.

It is thought to be the strongest evidence yet that the Sars-like illness can transmit from patient to patient, increasing the risk of more people becoming infected.

Health Protection Scotland said that while no cases had yet been reported in Scotland, health boards had been told to look out for symptoms.

Consultant epidemiologist Dr Jim McMenamin said: “The risk to members of the public in Scotland, including those who’ve recently travelled to the Arabian peninsula, remains very low.

“In line with international practice, Health Protection Scotland has updated NHS boards regarding the latest information on these new cases of novel coronavirus and is reviewing all relevant guidance.”

Infected patients elsewhere have gone to doctors with serious respiratory illness including fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.

Coronaviruses cause most common colds but can also cause Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome). In 2003, hundreds of people died after a Sars outbreak in Asia.

On Monday, the HPA said one person who had recently travelled to the Middle East and Pakistan was being treated in an intensive care unit at a

Manchester hospital after becoming infected with the new type of coronavirus.

Officials yesterday confirmed that a relative of the patient, who is also a UK resident, had become infected and was being treated at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.

The family member, who has not travelled abroad recently, has an existing medical condition that might make them more susceptible to respiratory infections.

The latest case brings the number of confirmed cases across the world to 11 – three of which were diagnosed in the UK, the HPA said.

Last year, British health officials identified another case of the novel coronavirus. A 49-year-old Qatari man was treated at St Thomas’ Hospital in London after becoming infected and flown in for treatment.

Yesterday, University Hospitals Birmingham said confirmed that it was treating the latest patient, who arrived on Saturday night.

Their condition deteriorated on Sunday and they were moved to an isolation room in critical care, where they were described as “stable”.

The exact source of the new virus and how it spreads remains unknown, but it does appear to be closely related to bats.

Professor John Watson, head of respiratory diseases 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.

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

Five patients have died as a result of the infectious disease, none of them in the UK.

Whooping cough vaccine call

CASES of whooping cough in Scotland remain high, with 212 suspected cases reported in the first month of the year, figures show.

This compares with just 16 cases at the same time last year, as the number of cases of the infection continues at a high that has not been seen for at least 25 years.

Experts yesterday urged pregnant women to take up the offer of a whooping cough vaccine to help protect their babies.

Young children are at particular risk from the infection as vaccination does not start until they are two months old and three doses are needed for full protection.

Fourteen babies under three months old have died during the outbreak in England and Wales, but no deaths have been reported in Scotland.