London: A mysterious SARS-like respiratory illness has claimed the first victim in Britain, raising the toll to six worldwide from the disease.
The patient, who was being treated at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, died on Sunday after becoming infected with the novel coronavirus, the hospital confirmed today.
Of the 12 persons known to have been infected with the virus around the world, six have died.
The threat to the general population is believed to be small, although the virus has shown signs of spreading from people-to-people.
The three members of the same family have been infected with the virus in UK as well as another patient who was flown in from Qatar for treatment.
One family member may have picked up the virus while travelling to the Middle East and Pakistan and then the virus spread within the family.
The hospital said it is working with the UK’s Health Protection Agency (HPA) to test other people who may have come into contact with the virus.
"The patient was already an outpatient at Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, undergoing treatment for a long-term, complex unrelated health condition.
The patient was immuno-compromised and is believed to have contracted the virus from a relative who is being treated for the condition in a Manchester hospital," the hospital said in a statement.
The infection causes pneumonia and sometimes kidney failure.
"In this case a family member who was in close personal contact with the patient and who may have been at greater risk of acquiring an infection because of their underlying health condition," said Professor John Watson, head of the HPA`s respiratory diseases department.
"To date, evidence of person-to-person transmission has been limited. 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.
The exact source of the new virus and how it spreads is still unknown but an over-riding theory is that it comes from animals.
The coronavirus (NCov) belongs to the same family as the coronavirus SARS, which surfaced in China over a decade ago and infected 8,000 people worldwide, killing around one in 10 of them.