The WHO announced identification of a laboratory-confirmed case of infection with the novel coronavirus in France, which appeared to have been transmitted person to person.
Dr Peter Horby, Senior Clinical Research Fellow, the Wellcome Trust and Oxford University Clinical Research Unit (OUCRU) in Hanoi, Vietnam, said:
“This is not the first time that person to person transmission of the novel corona virus has been described. It definitely occurred in the UK, but to an individual with pre-existing poor health and therefore vulnerability, and probably occurred in other clusters in the Middle East.
“However, the fact that we have now observed several clusters in different settings in different countries demonstrates more clearly that the virus possesses the ability for limited person to person transmission under certain conditions, such as the health care setting and prolonged close contact.
“Information is limited but the large cluster in Saudi is the more concerning since it might represent more than one link in the chain of transmission (from person to person to person) and/or transmission from an infected person to previously healthy people. More details are urgently needed, particularly on the specific conditions under which transmission has occurred.
“These events highlight the need for a high level of vigilance for possible cases and adherence to strict infection control and prevention practices, particularly in settings where there are other vulnerable patients.”
Prof Peter Openshaw, Director of the Centre for Respiratory Infection, Imperial College London, said:
“We are right to be concerned about the reporting of transmission from person to person, but there is absolutely no reason to panic.
“Human to human transmission has now been documented but this is not a great surprise and the virus seems relatively hard to transmit. The ‘super-spreading’ events, in which one person infects several dozen people at a time (as was seen with SARS coronavirus), do not seem to be happening with this coronavirus.
“There is much we still don’t know about this virus, including the nature and location of its reservoir and how often it caused mild or unapparent disease in healthy people. We need to know a lot more in order to limit spread in the future”
Dr Ben Neuman, Director of Internationalisation, virologist and expert on coronavirus, School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading, said:
“This virus can cause a life-threatening pneumonia similar to SARS, but the spread of the virus is still quite slow in comparison. So far, the virus has only spread between people in unusual circumstances, such as living in the same house, or among people who were already hospitalised for other reasons.
“The outlook remains cautious, but infections are fortunately still rare. One of the lessons from the SARS outbreak is that viruses can adapt to humans in small steps by first spreading through intermediate species. The important thing now is to investigate how the virus has been able to move from bats to humans, and whether it passed through another kind of animal in order to do so.”
Prof Ian Jones, Professor of Virology, University of Reading, said:
“The WHO data do indicate probable human to human transmission. However the circumstances are unusual, close contact in a hospital, and other patients co-housed with index case did not become infected. This does not amount to human to human transmission “on the street” so the risk remains very low. The most important goal remains to locate the source of infection so that measures to minimise contact can be taken.”