March 8, 2013 -- Health officials are warning of a new virus that has sickened at least 14 people worldwide, killing eight of them.
There are no known American cases of the coronavirus, known as hCoV-EMC, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control is urging doctors with patients who have an unexplained respiratory illness after traveling to the Arabian peninsula or neighboring countries to report the cases to the CDC.
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Doctors should also report patients with known diseases who don't respond to appropriate treatment, the agency said its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Close contacts of a symptomatic patient should also be evaluated.
The novel virus, which is associated with severe respiratory illness with renal failure, was first recognized last September and caused alarm because it is genetically and clinically similar to the SARS virus, which caused hundreds of deaths worldwide.
The two most recent cases -- both reported from Saudi Arabia -- ended in death, bring the total number of fatalities associated with the virus to eight, including five in Saudi Arabia, two in Jordan, and one in the U.K.
The U.K. death was part of a small cluster that, the CDC reported, is the "first clear evidence" of three things: Human-to-human transmission; coinfection with another pathogen, influenza A; and a case of mild illness associated with the novel coronavirus.
The first patient identified in the cluster was a 60-year-old man who remains in intensive care after developing respiratory illness Jan. 24 during travel to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. He returned to the U.K. 4 days later and was admitted to the hospital Jan. 31 with severe lower respiratory tract disease.
The second patient -- an adult male household member with the flu – had contact with the first patient, became ill on Feb. 6, and died of severe respiratory disease despite intensive care. The CDC suggests having the flu "might have made him more susceptible to severe respiratory infection."
The final case in the cluster was a woman who developed respiratory illness on Feb. 5, after seeing the first patient in the hospital. She was not admitted to the hospital and recovered by Feb. 19. The U.K. Health Protection Agency said her case is the "first ever recorded instance of apparently lower severity of illness."
The CDC has posted updated guidance for health care providers on its website.