Briton dies after contracting new SARS-like virus
LONDON, (Reuters) - A British man infected with a new virus from the same family as SARS has died, health officials said yesterday, bringing the worldwide death toll from the previously unknown disease to six.
The virus, called novel coronavirus or NCoV, was unknown in humans until it emerged in the Middle East last year. There have been 12 confirmed cases worldwide – including in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Britain – and half the patients have died.
“This patient had an underlying condition that may have made them more susceptible to respiratory infections,” the Health Protection Agency said in a statement announcing the death of one of four people in Britain with the NCoV infection.
NCoV was identified when the World Health Organisation issued an international alert in September 2012, saying a completely new virus had infected a Qatari man in Britain who had recently been in Saudi Arabia.
Since then 12 cases have been identified, including a cluster of cases reported last week in a family in Britain.
The HPA said it had followed up more than 100 people who had close contact with cases in this family cluster.
“Besides the identified secondary cases, all tests carried out on contacts to date have been negative for the novel coronavirus infection,” it said.
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that includes those that cause the common cold as well as the one that caused SARS – which emerged in China in 2002 and killed about a 10th of the 8,000 people it infected worldwide.
Scientists are not sure where the new virus came from, but say one possibility is it came from animals. HPA experts say preliminary scientific analysis suggests its closest relatives are bat coronaviruses.
In one of the first published papers on NCoV, scientists said on Tuesday that while it might have jumped from animals, it was already well adapted to infect humans and could penetrate the lining of passageways in the lungs and evade the immune system as easily as a cold virus could.
This shows it “grows very efficiently” in human cells and suggests it is well-equipped for infecting humans, said Volker Thiel of the Institute of Immunobiology at Kantonal Hospital in Switzerland, who led the study.