London: Health experts in Britain believe the latest human transmission of a SARS-like virus that has infected 11 people worldwide, is the first indication that the respiratory illness can spread from person-to-person.
The country`s Health Protection Agency (HPA) had said that one person who had recently travelled to the Middle East and Pakistan was being treated in an intensive care unit at a Manchester hospital after becoming infected with a new type of coronavirus.
Now officials have confirmed that a relative of the patient, who is also a UK resident, has become infected and is being treated at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.
The patient is known to have an underlying health condition which may have made him susceptible to the infection.
Cases of the infection may come from contact with animals. However, if the virus can spread between people it poses a much more serious threat.
However, officials here say the threat to the whole population remains very low.
"Confirmed novel coronavirus infection in a person without travel history to the Middle East suggests that person-to-person transmission has occurred, and that it occurred in the UK," John Watson, head of the respiratory diseases department at the HPA said.
"Although this case provides strong evidence for person to person transmission, the risk of infection in most circumstances is still considered to be very low," Watson said.
"This doesn`t raise too many alarm bells. In a family things can spread far more easily than they would spread outside, people share towels and toothbrushes etc. If it was somebody who was not related or a nurse or a doctor that would be a lot more serious," John Oxford, a virology expert at Queen Mary, University of London, added.
Around the world, there have been 11 confirmed cases of the infection, which causes pneumonia and sometimes kidney failure.
The HPA said there have been five cases confirmed in Saudi Arabia resulting in three deaths, while two patients treated in Jordan both died.
A patient from Qatar was treated in Germany but has since been discharged.
Infected patients have complained of serious respiratory illness with fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.
The exact source of the new virus and how it spreads is still unknown.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses ranging from the common cold to SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), which spread through droplets of body fluids produced by sneezing and coughing.
In 2003, an outbreak of SARS killed about 800 people after the virus spread to more than 30 countries around the world.
The new coronavirus was first identified in September last year, in a patient in Saudi Arabia who has since died.