'Coronavirus belongs to same family as Sars'

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 February, 2013, 4:23pm
UPDATED : Monday, 18 February, 2013, 4:29pm

The new Sars-like virus probably originated from an infected bat and was passed to humans via other animals, a veteran Hong Kong virologist said on Monday.

Dr Ho Pak-leung, president of the University of Hong Kong’s Centre of Infection, said the novel coronavirus belongs to the same family as the severe acute respiratory syndrome virus that killed 299 people in Hong Kong, and others worldwide, in 2003.

Ho, speaking on a radio programme, said he believed the novel coronavirus had the same origin as the Sars virus and that their transmission routes to humans were similar.

He said the viruses probably first passed to a wild animal and then on to humans. In the case of the Sars, the virus was passed to humans from palm civets – a wild animal consumed by mainland diners as a delicacy.

Last week, two new infections of the novel coronavirus were reported in Britain, bringing the total number of cases worldwide to 12 since the virus was reported last April. Of the 12 people infected with novel coronavirus, five have died.

Judging from the development of the virus, evidence of its human-to-human transmission had been limited, Ho said.

“If the virus was easily transmissible from human to human, we would have had far more many infections than we do now,” he said.

But both the novel coronavirus and the Sars virus caused similar serious symptoms to people, such as severe pneumonia, fever and breathing difficulty, Ho said.

He said most patients infected with novel coronavirus, as with Sars, would require intensive care and some would eventually die as there was no specific drug to combat it and doctors could only used the anti-viral drug Ribavirin and steroids to treat patients.