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Extend virus alert to visitors from UK, urges doctor

Kelly Ip and Mary Ann Benitez

Monday, February 18, 2013


The alert over a mysterious SARS-like virus should be extended to travelers from Britain, an infectious diseases doctor says.

This follows the third case of the novel coronavirus in Britain this month, involving a second family member of a 60-year- old man who became sick and infected his son. It brings to 12 the number of cases confirmed globally, with five deaths.

The age and gender of the latest case were not disclosed by the Health Protection Agency in Britain. The older man had been to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and fell ill on his return home.

His son has an underlying medical condition. Both are in intensive care in British hospitals. The third family member had mild respiratory symptoms and did not require hospital treatment.

"The confirmation in this case with no recent travel history indicates that infection was acquired in the UK," the World Health Organization said.

Thomas So Man-kit, president of the Hong Kong Society for Infectious Diseases, said the Centre for Health Protection should consider expanding the alert from the Arabian Peninsula - where five deaths were recorded in Saudi Arabia and Jordan - to include Britain.

"The latest alert criteria was issued to doctors on January 21, based on the global situation at that time," So said.

"The CHP should consider the latest situation and expand the alert criteria."

US-based disease genetics expert Henry Niman said there are serious concerns that cases are being missed because patients are screened using upper respiratory tract samples when the WHO recommends testing of samples collected from the lower respiratory tract.

"These concerns have been increased by the report suggesting the export of the novel coronavirus by a UK resident who developed symptoms while performing Umrah [the pilgrimage to Mecca] in Saudi Arabia," Niman said.

He said there was also a family cluster of four in Riyadh.

"This mild case [in the UK], coupled with the human-to-human transmission within the family, has raised concerns that the number of cases in Saudi Arabia is significantly higher than the five confirmed and one probable case."

A Department of Health spokesman said it will continue the existing border control measures in accordance with the WHO's latest case definition.

He said travelers suspected to have acquired the novel coronavirus will be referred to hospitals for further assessment.

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