CDC wants U.S. docs to look out for mysterious coronavirus from Middle East

This undated image released by the British Health Protection Agency shows an electron microscope image of a coronavirus, part of a family of viruses that cause ailments including the common cold and SARS, which was first identified last year in the Middle East. British officials say a mysterious virus related to SARS may have spread between humans, as they confirmed the 11th case worldwide of the new coronavirus in a patient who they say probably caught it from a family member. Officials at the World Health Organization said the new virus has probably already spread between humans in some instances. (AP Photo/Health Protection Agency) AP

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning U.S. doctors about a mysterious new coronavirus that's been claiming lives overseas.

The CDC's new report, published March 7 in its journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, shows there have been a total of 14 confirmed cases of the novel infection reported to the World Health Organization (WHO), with eight deaths. The illnesses occurred in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, and the United Kingdom from April 2012 through February 2013. No cases have been reported in the United States.

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that can cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to SARS, which killed 800 people during a 2003 global epidemic.

The World Health Organization has been tracking the mysterious disease since Sept. 2012 following the deaths of a patient in Saudi Arabia and the hospitalization of a Qatari national in the U.K.

The infection presents as a severe respiratory illness. In the new report, the CDC is asking doctors to notify the agency immediately if a patient comes in with an unexplained severe respiratory illness within 10 days of traveling from the Arabian Peninsula or nearby countries: Bahrain, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestinian Territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. The same goes for people who present with severe illness who are close contacts of a recent traveler to the region who had a recent fever or respiratory illness.

The report detailed a cluster of three infections within one family that may provide more clues about the disease.

Previously, international health officials said the virus may have spread to humans from animals like bats or camels. In February, the WHOsaid it could not rule out human-to-human transmission because there was close physical contact between family members caring for each other for some cases.

According to the CDC's report, a 60-year-old man who had visited Pakistan and Saudi Arabia before coming to the U.K. Jan. 28 was hospitalized three days later with a severe respiratory infection. Lab tests were taken and the man tested positive for the new coronavirus plus the H1N1 flu virus.

The next infected family member became ill with a severe respiratory disease on Feb. 6 and later died after being treated in intensive care.

The third patient -- an adult female -- also had contact with the first patient and became sick Feb. 5, but had a milder respiratory infection and did not need to be hospitalized. Only the first patient had traveled outside the U.K., which lead British health officials to conclude person-to-person transmission likely occurred in this family.

"This recent cluster provides the first clear evidence of human-to- human transmission of this novel coronavirus, coinfection of this novel coronavirus with another pathogen (influenza A), and a case of mild illness associated with this novel coronavirus infection," wrote the researchers.

The CDC has more information in a series of questions and answers on the new coronavirus.

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