Three people have received treatment in the UK
What is this new coronavirus and should we be concerned?A new respiratory illness similar to the Sars virus that spread globally in 2003 and killed hundreds of people has been identified three patients given treatment in Britain.
What is this new virus?
The new virus is a type of coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, which includes the common cold and Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome). The new virus is not Sars.
There have been 11 confirmed cases of the infection around the world.
Three cases have been identified in the UK. The first was a patient flown in from Qatar for treatment. The second was linked to travel to the Middle East and Pakistan.
Genetic analysis of the first UK case was carried out in a laboratory in Saudi Arabia, and its genetic material subsequently sequenced in a laboratory in the Netherlands.
The second UK case was later shown to be genetically the same.
It is thought that the virus which infected the second patient then spread to a close relative.
What does it do?
Coronaviruses cause respiratory infections in humans and animals. Patients have presented with fever, cough and breathing difficulties.
It causes pneumonia and sometimes kidney failure. So far five people are known to have died after being infected.
At this point it is not clear whether these cases are typical of infection with this virus or whether it could be circulating more widely and only very rarely causing a severe illness.
How is it spread?
It is not known for certain. It is possible the virus is spread in droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, but hard evidence is very sketchy. More likely is that people have picked up the virus from infected animals.
The fact that a close relative appears to have been infected in the UK suggests that the virus does have limited ability to pass from person to person.
But the latest patient is known to have an underlying health condition which may have made them much more susceptible to the infection than the average.
Experts believe the virus it is not very contagious. If it were, it is probable we would have seen more cases.
Coronaviruses are fairly fragile. Outside of the body they can only survive for a day and are easily destroyed by usual detergents and cleaning agents.
Public health experts in the UK have stressed that the risk to general population remains very low.
Can it be treated?
Doctors do not yet know what the best treatment is, but people with severe symptoms will need intensive medical care to help them breath. There is no vaccine for it.
As with any newly identified virus that may be associated with severe illness, it is better to err on the side of caution. All infection control precautions to prevent the spread of this virus are therefore being taken in the case of the patients with the confirmed diagnosis. This includes isolation of the patient, barrier nursing and making sure that all staff wear the appropriate protective equipment.
Where did it come from?
Experts do not yet know where the virus originated from. It may have been the result of a new mutation of an existing virus. Or it may be an infection that has been circulating in animals and has now made the jump to humans.
Is there any travel advice?
At the moment the World Health Organization says there is no reason to impose any travel restrictions. Travel advice will be kept under review if additional cases occur or when the patterns of transmission become clearer.
What about related viruses?
Coronaviruses are common viruses that most people get some time in their life. Their name comes from the crown-like spikes that cover their surface.
Human coronaviruses were first identified in the mid 1960s.
Other variants infect many different animals, producing symptoms similar to those in humans.
Most coronaviruses usually infect only one animal species or, at most, a small number of closely related species.
Sars was different: being able to infect people and animals, including monkeys, cats, dogs, and rodents.
What impact did Sars have?
Sars is thought to have infected more than 8,000 people, mainly in China and South East Asia, in an outbreak that started in early 2003. The illness spread to more than two dozen countries in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia before the global outbreak was contained.
Experts established that Sars could spread by close person-to-person contact
According to the World Health Organization, 774 people died from the infection. Since 2004, there have not been any known cases of Sars reported anywhere in the world.