UK checking two suspected MERS cases in northern England

By Kate and Kelland LONDON, July 27 (Reuters) - Health officials were investigating two suspected cases of the Middle Eastern Respiratory Virus Syndrome (MERS) on Monday at a hospital in northern England that briefly closed its emergency department. The two suspected patients at Manchester Royal Infirmary were placed in isolation, but there was no significant risk to others at the hospital or to the general public, Central Manchester University Hospitals Trust said. "Both patients were isolated for on-going management of their condition while tests took place. One patient has now been relocated to North Manchester General. Results of the tests are still pending," the hospital said in a statement. "Manchester Royal Infirmary A&E is open to the public. We would like to reassure our patients and the general public that there is no significant risk to public health." Cases of MERS virus infection, which causes coughing and fever and can lead to fatal pneumonia and kidney failure, have been found mainly in Saudi Arabia and South Korea. But it has also been imported in travellers to at least 25 countries worldwide since it first emerged in 2012. MERS kills about 38 percent of those it infects and is caused by a coronavirus from the same family as the one that triggered China's deadly 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). It is also a relative of the common cold virus, although is not as infectious as a cold or flu. Ben Neuman, a virologist at Reading University, said if the UK cases were confirmed, the risk of MERS developing into an outbreak in Britain are small. "MERS only becomes a problem if it is mishandled," he said, adding the important factors in preventing a outbreak are to rapidly isolate the cases, monitor their contacts for signs of disease, clean affected areas and report back openly and honestly to the public. "As a result of Ebola, there are far more people in the UK with experience in handling dangerous viruses than there were a year ago," he said, referring to the UK's success in handling the Ebola virus in patients returning from West Africa. (Reporting by Kate Kelland and Michael Holden; Editing by Tom Heneghan)