Novel coronavirus

Deadly Sars-like virus takes toll on British family

British household has suffered one death while another member is unconscious, widow says

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 March, 2013, 7:26am

The widow of the first person to die of a new Sars-like virus in Britain has told of the tragic circumstances of his death.

Azima Hussain, 33, giving her first interview, spoke of the devastation inflicted on her family by the coronavirus that killed her husband, Khalid, last month.

Azima said her father-in-law, Abid - who was the unwitting bearer of the disease - was still unconscious in hospital and unaware of his son's death. He fell ill from the virus after a trip to Mecca in Saudi Arabia to pray for Khalid, 38, who had brain cancer.

Khalid caught the virus from his father and, because of his chemotherapy treatment, did not have the immune system to fight it off. He died on February 17.

His death made a severe impact on their twin boys, Danyal and Zain, who would be three years old today, Azima said.

"They keep asking, 'Where's Daddy? When is Dad coming home?' … but they're too young to know what's going on."

Meanwhile, scientists are screening hundreds of drugs for compounds that may help contain the new pathogen, which is a coronavirus, the same family of viruses as those that cause common colds and the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome.

It has infected at least 15 people since it emerged in the Middle East last year - more than half of whom have died of pneumonia and multiple organ failure, symptoms common in Sars patients.

Khalid Hussain, a travel agent living in the town of Rotherham in northern England, was diagnosed with a brain tumour in November. Doctors gave him a 20 per cent chance of survival, and he moved to Birmingham in order to be closer to Queen Elizabeth Hospital, where he began chemotherapy in January.

Abid Hussain, in his early 60s, developed flu-like symptoms immediately on his return and was admitted to the same hospital on February 7. He was later transferred to Manchester for specialist care.

By February 10, Khalid was displaying the same symptoms. The official cause of his death is recorded as coronavirus.

Abid's sister Zaida was also confirmed to have been infected, but her healthy immune system aided her quick recovery.

The novel coronavirus was first identified by a doctor in Saudi Arabia, who alerted the global authorities and was then sacked in September, forcing him to leave the country.

Egyptian native Professor Ali Mohamed Zaki angered the health ministry when he sent the virus, isolated from a patient who died in June, out of the country for identification.

"They sent a team to the hospital to investigate me, to blame me and threaten me. They forced the hospital to terminate my contract," Zaki said. "It was my duty. This is a serious virus."