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More Media Myths On Beta Coronavirus Transmission
Recombinomics Commentary 16:00
February 13, 2013

A novel coronavirus has been diagnosed in a third person in the UK, providing the first evidence that it can be passed between people.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) has confirmed that a third UK resident has been confirmed with the respiratory disease and is receiving intensive care treatment at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.

Unlike the other two cases, the third patient has no history of recent travel and so did not pick up the infection overseas.

The above comment, claiming that the latest novel beta coronavirus infection provides “the first evidence that it can pass between people” is demonstrably false.  The latest case is the 11th confirmed case, and creates the third cluster. 

The first cluster was confirmed late, but was clearly the largest involving probable and confirmed cases.  The outbreak was among people (largely health care workers) linked to an ICU in Jordan.  The two fatal cases were lab confirmed and the 1 week time gap between the death of the nurse (45F) and the intern (25M) strongly signaled human to human transmission, as did the infection of the nurse’s son.  Although the non-fatal cases were not lab confirmed, all but one was hospitalized and a WHO epidemiological analysis concluded that most if not all of the symptomatic cases were “probable” cases.

The largest cluster of confirmed cases was a familial outbreak in Riyadh.  Like the cluster in Jordan, WHO has withheld the disease onset days for the symptomatic family members, but media reports indicated the two fatal cases were father and son (father was 70 years old) and they died 4 days apart, once again supporting human transmission within the cluster.  Both fatal cases were confirmed, as was the novel coronavirus in one of the symptomatic surviving family members.  The fourth symptomatic family member tested negative, but again WHO classified the case as probable, based on symptoms and disease onset date.

The recent cluster in the UK limits unfounded speculation in the media suggesting that the human cases are linked to contaminated fruit or ground water, or other animals, including camels!  There was little scientific basis for any the above because an extensive survey of animals, including bats in Europe, Africa, and Asia, failed to identify any coronavirus that was more than 91% identical to the sequences from the human cases, which were all at least 99.5% identical to each other (in contrast to SARS-CoV where bat sequences had a 98% identity with human sequences). 

Moreover, most of the cases had no linkage to animals, but did have linkages to symptomatic humans as noted in the above three clusters which involve 7 of the 11 confirmed cases.

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