Mysterious SARS-like disease strikes for first time in 2013

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A mysterious SARS-like illness behind five deaths in the Middle East last year has infected its first person of 2013, British officials said Monday.

The new case marks the world's 10th known case of the new virus, which international health officials call a coronavirus. 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 patient, a U.K. resident who had been in the Middle East and Pakistan, is in the intensive care unit of a Manchester hospital, according to a statement Monday from Britain's Health Protection Agency. Overall risk however, remains low, officials said.

"Our assessment is that the risk associated with novel coronavirus to the general UK population remains extremely low and the risk to travelers to the Arabian Peninsula and surrounding countries remains very low," Professor John Watson, head of respiratory diseases department at the agency, said in a written statement. "No travel restrictions are in place but people who develop severe respiratory symptoms, such as shortness of breath, within ten days of returning from these countries should seek medical advice and mention which countries they have visited."

In past cases, patients' symptoms have included acute breathing problems and kidney failure.

There is no proof the virus spreads easily between humans, but experts suspect humans can catch it from animals such as bats or camels. One expert, Dr. Michael Osterholm, an infectious diseases researcher at the University of Minnesota, told the Associated Press last September that bats may have passed on the virus from other animals and it could be a complicated transmission chain that ultimately ends in humans.

All the previous cases have had links to the Middle East, but last year, the World Health Organization said the virus was probably more widespread. The other nine cases of the virus have been confirmed in five patients from Saudi Arabia (three cases were fatal), two from Qatar and two fatal cases from Jordan.

It recommended countries test anyone with unexplained pneumonia for the virus.

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