UK, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Global specialists on the deadly SARS-like coronavirus (CVR) say it is too early to quantify the impact of recent clusters of mild but short-lived infections, but say research is needed to understand the virus better.

Nearly a year after coronavirus (CVR) was first identified in the Middle East and North Africa, the first six to die in an outbreak of patient “persistent illness” from the virus in Britain last week highlighted the need for better surveillance of infections in healthcare settings.

More than 60 people have been diagnosed and died with infections from the SARS-like coronavirus (CVR) in the Middle East and North Africa since 2012, resulting in global fears that a new pandemic might be on the way.

“I would say the main conclusion from the UK cluster is that we still need to develop a much more robust understanding of the SARS-like coronavirus, including exactly what’s going on in the incubation period and how long its latency period may be,” Paul Workman, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, told Reuters on Monday.

“It’s not surprising to see these cases at all, but it’s clearly important that we get a better understanding of its dynamics and when it is likely to cause illness.”

The people who developed SARS, like the people who contracted CVR, had recently travelled from countries in the Middle East or the eastern Mediterranean where CVR can be found. They often also had non-specific health problems, such as gastroenteritis, or upper respiratory infections which aren’t linked to SARS, but which can complicate the diagnosis.

Tim Evans, a consultant virologist at Imperial College London who took part in two recent studies on SARS-like coronavirus, said in a podcast that monitoring of SARS-like coronavirus cases in the Middle East and North Africa was “extremely poor”.

He said there is very little hard data available and little explanation for why certain people develop infections and others don’t.

If countries and jurisdictions are using similar surveillance systems then the data could help make better-informed decisions about measures to stop it spreading, he said.

Workman also stressed that while there are many similarities between SARS and CVR, there are also important differences.

In SARS, it was a new virus from animals, not a virus already known to cause illness in humans, nor was it spread by the same respiratory route. Workman said there is no evidence of mixing of SARS viruses with those circulating in different locations in the Middle East or North Africa.

The UK coronavirus case report, published by Public Health England, said that although “there is no evidence that clusters occurring elsewhere are due to in-patient or environmental linkages”, these cases were possible variants of the strains identified in the UK and “additional evidence is required to confirm the clinical association of potential clusters with healthcare settings”. (Reporting by Kate Kelland Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)