On 31 December 2019, the WHO China Country Office was informed of cases of pneumonia of unknown etiology (unknown cause) detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China. A novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) was identified as the causative virus by Chinese authorities on 7 January.
There have been two reported deaths so far with one person having had a serious underlying condition. Health Agencies around the world are monitoring the situation closely (See Useful Links below).
Airport screening on travellers from Wuhan detected fever in two travellers who have also been diagnosed with this novel coronavirus and are being treated in Japan and Thailand. The patient in Thailand was discharged two days later but a second traveller is now being treated.
What is a Novel Coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. There are several known human coronaviruses that usually only cause mild respiratory disease, such as the common cold. However, at least twice previously, coronaviruses have emerged to infect people and cause severe disease, such as has been seen with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).The cases in the Wuhan pneumonia outbreak have tested negative for both SARS and MERS.
A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people.
Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
CDC report that ‘most patients have been linked to the Wuhan South China Seafood City (also called the South China Seafood Wholesale Market and the Hua Nan Seafood Market). In addition to seafood, the market sells chickens, bats, cats, marmots, and other wild animals. On January 1, 2020, Chinese health officials closed the market for cleaning and disinfection’.
A number of countries have implemented screening for travellers. The US has implemented screening for travellers from Wuhan at three international airports: New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Whilst WHO are not recommending any travel or trade restrictions, it would be prudent to suspend all non essential travel to Wuhan, Hubei Province in China until the situation stabilises.
Promote standard recommendations to prevent infection spread including regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing.
Where possible avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.
Remind travellers who feel unwell after international travel to see their Doctor. If they have visited Wuhan, then they should not visit the surgery but call their Doctor to seek advice.
Sickness and homeworking policies. Staff who feel unwell and are exhibiting the symptoms above should be encouraged not to come to work.
Pandemic contingency plans in case of escalation.