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'SARS-like' virus infects second French patient

A second diagnosis of the new SARS-like virus coronavirus was confirmed in France on Sunday as clinicians are urged to watch for 'a-typical' respiratory symptoms in patients who have recently visited the Middle East. 

The new infection was found in a 50-year-old man who had shared a hospital room with France's only other known sufferer, the French Health ministry said in a statement.

Health experts are concerned about clusters of the new coronavirus strain, nCoV, which was first spotted in the Gulf and has spread to France, Britain and Germany.

There has so far been little evidence of direct and sustained human-to-human transmission of nCoV - in contrast to the pattern seen in the related Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus, which killed 775 people in 2003.

Public Health England (PHE) has urged care professionals are to be vigilant for severe unexplained respiratory illness occurring in anyone who has recently travelled in the Middle East, as well as any unexplained cluster of severe respiratory illness or healthcare worker with unexplained severe respiratory illness. 

Advice has been provided on infection control, urgent diagnostic investigation and identification of contacts of suspected cases.

Professor John Watson, head of the respiratory diseases department at PHE, said: “There have been no new cases of novel coronavirus in the UK since February 2013 so the total remains at four. Sadly two of those have died

“We remain vigilant to the developments in Saudi and in the rest of the world where new cases have emerged and continue to liaise closely with our international colleagues to assess whether our recommendations need to change. Although some person-to-person transmission has been reported, there remains no evidence of sustained person-to-person transmission.”

The first nCoV case in France, confirmed on May 8, is a 65-year-old man who fell ill after returning from Dubai late last month.

Both French patients are in hospital in the northern city of Lille, where the younger man was transferred to intensive care on Sunday as his breathing deteriorated.

His case suggests that airborne transmission of the virus is possible, though still unusual, said Professor Benoit Guery, head of the Lille hospital's infectious diseases unit.

"Fortunately, this remains a virus that is not easily transmitted," Guery told the BFMTV channel. "I don't think the public should be concerned - it has been out there for a year and we have 34 cases globally."

He said the second French case had occurred because the first patient presented "quite atypical" symptoms and had not been isolated immediately.

Health officials screened more than 100 people who had come into contact with him, carrying out laboratory tests on at least five, including three medical staff.

All came back negative except the fellow patient, who had  shared a hospital room with him for 48 hours, the ministry said.

French authorities are now widening the screening effort to include anyone who has been in contact with the second confirmed case.

This new coronavirus was first identified in September 2012 in a patient who died from a severe respiratory infection in June 2012.

As of 27 March 2013 there have been over 16 cases detected world-wide. 

More information is available on the Public Health England website.