A new Sars-like illness is spreading between humans, experts warn. So far there have been just three confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Britain – and only 11 in the world.
Initially scientists assumed it could only be caught from animals and was mainly confined to the Middle East.
But today the Health Protection Agency confirmed that a man had apparently caught the disease from a relative.
This latest case is the first evidence that the virus can spread between humans.
Officials at the HPA insist that the victim was suffering from long-term health problems that made him more susceptible to the illness.
They stress that the overall threat to the population remains low – and it is far less dangerous than Sars which claimed hundreds of lives.
The latest patient is being treated on the intensive care unit at Queen’s Hospital Birmingham.
He is thought to have caught the disease from a relation, who became infected in the Middle East, and is being treated at a Manchester hospital.
‘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.’
A third patient who contracted the illness in Qatar in September is still being treated at another hospital in Britain.
There have been another eight cases worldwide, mainly in the Middle East, and seven of the patients died.
Scientists have likened the infection to Sars, which claimed 900 lives worldwide between 2002 and 2003
At present they are not sure exactly how it is transmitted but it is thought to be mainly viaay be via animals or their droppings.
Sars, or Severe acute respiratory syndrome, which originated in China in November 2002.
Between then and July 2003, it spread to 37 other countries, including Ireland, Spain and the US, infecting more than 8,400 people and claiming 900 lives.
Four cases were reported in the UK, although no one died.
WHAT ARE CORONAVIRUSES?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are known to cause illness in humans and animals. In humans, this large family of viruses are known to cause illness ranging from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
What are the symptoms of the novel coronavirus?
In confirmed cases, common symptoms have been acute, serious respiratory illness with fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties. The infection generally presents as pneumonia. It has caused kidney failure and death in some cases.
How is the virus spread?
To date, the Health Protection Agency says it is not clear how humans have become infected with this virus. At the moment there is no vaccine or specific treatment – but many of the symptoms caused by this virus can be treated.