Sep 25, 2012 (CIDRAP News) – As the investigation of two severe illnesses associated with a novel coronavirus continued today, the United Kingdom's Health Protection Agency (HPA) released a preliminary phylogenetic tree for the virus and tentatively named it "London1_novel CoV 2012."
As reported previously, the virus has been identified in a 49-year-old Qatari man who is in a critical care unit in a London hospital and in a 60-year-old Saudi Arabian man who died in July in his home country. Both cases involve pneumonia and kidney failure, and the Qatari man had traveled to Saudi Arabia before he got sick.
In 2003, a then-novel coronavirus caused the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak, which killed 774 people worldwide. Other coronaviruses are linked to the common cold.
The phylogenetic tree, constructed from partial sequences from the polymerase gene of various coronaviruses, shows that the new one is closely related to bat coronaviruses. The HPA also released the partial sequence for the virus's polymerase gene.
In other developments, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said today the available information suggests that the current risk associated with the new virus is low.
Noting that there has been no sign of human-to-human transmission, the agency said, "The newly identified coronavirus is not genetically similar to the SARS coronavirus and does not signal the start of a new SARS outbreak."
Also today, the World Health Organization (WHO) commented via Twitter that the kidney failure reported in both patients infected with the new virus is a "unique feature" of the infection.
In addition, late today the WHO released an update and an interim case definition to help countries be on guard against the new virus. On the basis of the cases so far, the definition includes criteria for "a patient under investigation," a probable case, and a confirmed case, using clinical, epidemiologic, and laboratory variables. The update said no new cases were identified today.
And in Hong Kong, the region's Hospital Authority said that a previously reported cluster of coronavirus-related respiratory illnesses in Castle Peak Hospital was caused by a known coronavirus. The cases occurred in a "female long-stay ward" and are due to human coronavirus NL63, a strain that usually causes mild respiratory illness such as the common cold, the agency said in a statement.