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Sars-like virus 'demands vigilance'

12 July 2013 09:12

Officials are being told to be vigilant against a new Sars-like condition

Officials are being told to be vigilant against a new Sars-like condition

Britons are being urged to be vigilant over a new Sars-like virus that has links to the Middle East.

Dr Richard Pebody, consultant epidemiologist at Public Health England, said people need to be aware the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is "an ongoing problem".

Health officials in Britain have been advised to keep an eye out for cases of severe unexplained respiratory illness in anyone who has recently travelled to the Middle East.

So far it has "predominantly" affected middle aged men, experts report, with almost two-thirds of the recorded MERS-CoV cases having affected men with an average age of 51.

The situation may act as a reminder for travellers to make sure they obtain appropriate pre-existing medical travel insurance if they need it when they embark on their summer holidays this year.

Experts have been discussing the issue at a conference held by Public Health England (PHE), where attendees were told that more than half of the people known to be infected by the condition subsequently died.

Dr John Watson, head of respiratory diseases at PHE, said "relatively few" younger people have been affected by the condition.

"Of those that have been identified, a great proportion of them have pre-existing underlying conditions, the sort of conditions that make them more susceptible to the complications of that virus infection," he added.

Experts attending the conference were told that so far there have been 80 confirmed cases resulting in 45 deaths worldwide.

In the UK three people have died as a result of the infection, including a Qatari man who died at the end of June.

He was 49 when admitted to St Thomas' Hospital in central London where he was treated in an intensive care unit, but his condition deteriorated.

Dr Pebody said: "There have been a small number of cases who have had milder illness, but the majority do have a very severe respiratory illness which is one of the reasons we are flagging this up as an issue of concern."

Travel insurance customers may have noted the World Health Organisation's statement in May when it referred to MERS-CoV as a global threat.

Coronaviruses cause most common colds but can also cause Sars, which stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome.