New Coronavirus Case in U.K. Suggests Human-to-Human Infection

British health authorities identified an additional case of a new respiratory virus in a relative of a person diagnosed this week, suggesting person-to-person transmission of the lethal pathogen.

The patient, who is in intensive care in a hospital in Birmingham, has no recent travel history and has an existing health condition that may have made him or her more susceptible to respiratory infections, the Health Protection Authority said in a statement today, without specifying the medical condition or the patient’s gender or age.

The infection with the new coronavirus is the third in the U.K. and the 11th globally, with five deaths. While person-to-person transmission may have occurred in some other cases in the Middle East, the risk of infection is considered low, according to the Geneva-based World Health Organization.

“If the 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,” John Watson, head of the HPA’s respiratory diseases department, said in the statement. “The risk associated with the novel coronavirus to the general U.K. population remains very low.”

Coronaviruses are a family of pathogens that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, which sickened more than 8,000 people and killed 774 in 2002 and 2003, according to the WHO. While the new virus is related to the one that causes SARS, it appears far less transmissible, according to the WHO.

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