Health Professionals

Clinical Updates

24 September 2012

Acute respiratory illness – novel corona virus

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) has confirmed a case of acute respiratory illness associated with a novel corona virus [1, 2]. The patient is originally from Qatar and had travelled to Saudi Arabia. Their infection was acquired in the Middle East and was diagnosed on arrival in the United Kingdom. The patient is currently receiving intensive care treatment in a London hospital.

In recent months this novel corona virus has been detected in a separate patient with acute respiratory illness in Saudi Arabia who subsequently died.

A small number of additional cases of serious respiratory illness have been identified during the past three months in the Middle East, but to date there is no evidence that these were caused by the same virus.

Corona viruses are causes of the common cold but can also cause more serious illness including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). However, this novel virus is different to any previously identified and there is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission.


Advice for travellers

Only two cases worldwide have been identified. There are no travel restrictions and no specific advice for travellers to the Middle East. 

Travellers returning from the Middle East with mild respiratory symptoms are most likely to have a common respiratory illness such as a cold.  

However, if symptoms worsen considerably with breathlessness, medical advice should be sought from the GP or NHS Direct. Returning travellers should mention which countries of the Middle East they have visited.

Further information is available on the HPA website.

Advice for health professionals

Clinicians are asked to be alert for patients who meet this case definition and to inform their local Health Protection Unit who will be able to assist in the risk assessment and advise on what samples should be taken.

Infection control measures should be instituted if a possible case is suspected. The HPA has developed infection control guidance for the healthcare setting and these can be accessed at -


Clinical queries about the management of potential cases of severe respiratory infections in people who have recently visited Saudi Arabia or Qatar should be directed in the first instance to the local infectious disease physician or microbiologists.  The national Imported Fever Service is available to local infectious disease physicians or microbiologists should specialist advice be needed - tel – 0844 7788990.



1. Health Protection Agency. Acute respiratory illness associated with a new virus identified in the UK. 23 September 2012. [Accessed 24 September 2012]. Available at:


2. World Health Organization. Novel coronavirus infection in the United Kingdom. 23 September 2012. [Accessed 24 September 2012]. Available at:



Health Protection Agency – Novel corona virus (September 2012)