A new coronavirus identified in the Middle East

There are early reports of a new coronavirus not previously seen in humans. One case of severe respiratory infection is in a 49-year-old man being treated in Intensive Care in London. He was from Qatar and was flown to the UK after being admitted to hospital in Doha. A similar case of a 60-year-old man who died in Saudi Arabia is being investigated.

The UK’s Health Protection Agency has notified the World Health Organisation.

“Coronaviruses are causes of the common cold but can also include more severe illness, such as the virus responsible for SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome).”


“The WHO said it was not recommending any travel restrictions but would be seeking further information on the virus.”


“Sars is a serious respiratory infection that caused a global outbreak in 2002, spreading from Hong Kong to more than 30 different countries around the world and killing around 800 people. Although it has not been eradicated its spread was fully contained in 2003. Like other coronaviruses, it is spread through droplets of body fluids – produced by sneezing and coughing.”


Case reports are recognised as a powerful tool in identifying the infective agent in new outbreaks. Subsequent contact tracing can help confirm the modes of transmission, infectivity and range of severity.

Air travel is clearly the principle route for international travel of a new virus. There is likely to be debate on the value of screening (especially with new ‘non-contact’ technologies [1-3] ) at airports and controversy over permission to travel whilst ‘unwell’.

1. Bitar D, Goubar A, Desenclos JC. International travels and fever screening during epidemics: a literature review on the effectiveness and potential use of non-contact infrared thermometers. Euro Surveill. 2009 Feb;14(6). Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19215720

2. Tan C-C. SARS in Singapore–key lessons from an epidemic. Ann. Acad. Med. Singap. 2006 May;35(5):345–349. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16830002

3. St John RK, King A, de Jong D, Bodie-Collins M, Squires SG, Tam TWS. Border screening for SARS. Emerging Infect. Dis. 2005 Jan;11(1):6–10. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/pmid/15705315/