Intended for healthcare professionals


Novel coronavirus: how much of a threat?

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 27 February 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f1301
  1. Richard Pebody, consultant 1,
  2. Maria Zambon, director2,
  3. John M Watson, head1
  1. 1Respiratory Diseases Department, Health Protection Services, Health Protection Agency, London NW9 5EQ, UK
  2. 2Reference Microbiology Services, Health Protection Agency, London, UK
  1. richard.pebody{at}

We know the questions to ask; we don’t yet have many answers

A third case of novel coronavirus (NCoV) infection was reported by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) on 15 February 2013, part of a family cluster of three cases in the West Midlands, England.1 This means that 13 cases have been laboratory confirmed worldwide since September 2012. Four cases have been diagnosed in the United Kingdom, and seven patients, including one in the UK, have died.2 The index patient in the recent UK cluster had travelled to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in the 10 days before the onset of disease, whereas the second and third cases were family members who had not been abroad and probably acquired their infection after contact with the index case. The earlier UK case was a previously well adult transferred to intensive care in London from Qatar with severe respiratory illness in September 2012.3 What have we discovered about this new pathogen from the few cases so far reported? Is this likely to represent a global public health threat akin to that from severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus?

Human coronaviruses, first identified in the 1960s, are part of a diverse group of viruses found in humans and animals. In humans these RNA viruses typically cause respiratory illnesses ranging from …

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