New coronavirus appears

Transmission electron microscopy: Corona virus in cell culture.

© CDC/Dr. Fred Murphy; Sylvia Whitfield

A 49-year-old patient from Qatar has been receiving hospital treatment in London for two weeks for the symptoms of an acute, serious respiratory disease where a new corona virus has been detected. This was confirmed by the UK’s Health Protection Agency (HPA). It is the second laboratory-confirmed case of a new corona virus.

In July this year this virus was confirmed in a 60-year-old patient in Saudi Arabia who died of the disease. The patient who is now being treated in London fell ill at the beginning of September after having travelled in Saudi Arabia and initially received hospital treatment in Doha, Qatar before being flown to London on 11 September for further treatment. Corona viruses can cause a range of diseases: from general, minor coughs and colds through to SARS, which triggered a pandemic in 2002/3 that killed hundreds of people and had serious economic consequences and also a dramatic effect on health policy. This new type of corona virus is therefore being watched very closely and the international health authorities - the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) - are monitoring the development very carefully. Since there are only two confirmed cases of this new corona virus to date, clinical knowledge is very limited: the symptoms of the illness are that of an acute, serious respiratory disease (pneumonia, fever, feeling of being seriously ill). The infection is passed on by droplet transmission, similar to the common cold; the incubation period for corona viruses is reported to be four to ten days. It is not yet clear how much of a threat the new corona virus represents for the general population, but it is classified as low: two laboratory-confirmed cases indicate a limited outbreak, but the time interval between the cases is of the order of weeks, suggesting the virus is still in circulation. Since the related SARS pathogen triggered a pandemic ten years ago, the experts are being extremely vigilant. The Emerging Infections unit at the German Centre for Infection Research (DZIF) is working intensely on such new or newly occurring viruses. Professor Christian Drosten from Bonn, who ‘discovered’ the SARS virus of 2003, and Professor Stephan Becker (University of Marburg), who works on highly dangerous viruses such as Ebola, are involved in the work. The DZIF is currently working flat out on a diagnostic method which can be used to detect the infection in patients. In addition, preparations are being made to establish a vaccine against the new virus should it turn out to be more dangerous than expected. It is in close contact with the research group of Professor Ron Fouchier in Rotterdam, who together with Dr. Zaki in Jeddah initially succeeded in identifying the virus.

Further Information - Press Release of the British Health Protection Agency - Informations about the new Corona virus from the British Health Protection Agency - Website of the World Health Organization  - Informations on the website of the Robert-Koch-Institute


Christian Drosten (University of Bonn): “Finding a new corona virus in humans is an absolute rarity. Although two further corona viruses have again be described in humans since the SARS corona virus was discovered, these had simply been overlooked until then - they belong to the normal cold viruses in humans. But now a completely new virus has transferred to humans. Historically, this has occurred only in the SARS epidemic. The epidemiology must now be monitored very carefully.”

Professor Stephan Becker (University of Marburg): “Relatively little is known. What makes us sit up and take notice is that this year the same virus has been detected in a patient who probably had nothing to do with the patient now being treated in London from an epidemiological perspective. If this situation continues to develop, consideration will have to be given to working flat out on a vaccine. It will then be crucial that research facilities can collaborate well with industry.”

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