An outbreak of viral pneumonia — denoted by the World Health Organization as the 2019-nCov (novel coronavirus) — has been reported in the city of Wuhan, Hubei province in China, by the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission. The previously unknown pathogen has now been confirmed to be a new strain of coronavirus (different strain from SARS and MERS). Since 20 January 2020, the virus has now spread to the major cities of Beijing and Shenzhen, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to over 218; meanwhile, four deaths have been reported.
The most common symptom is fever, with some patients presenting with difficulty breathing, and bilateral pulmonary infiltrates. Human-to-Human transmission has been confirmed by China and persons who have been in contact with infected patients are currently being monitored. An ongoing epidemiological investigation has revealed that some of the cases are believed to have originated from the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan City. Chinese municipal and national health officials have set parameters to contain the outbreak, showing the country’s readiness and ability to manage respiratory illness outbreaks.
At present there are no recommendations from health authorities that travel to the Wuhan area or China needs to be avoided; the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that travelers to Wuhan “should avoid animals (alive or dead), animal markets, and contact with sick people.”
- US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – Travel Health Notice Alert Level 1 (i.e. “Practice Usual Precautions”) – 6 January 2020
- World Health Organization (WHO) – Advice on International Travel and Health – 10 January 2020; where it recommends the usual precautions such as:
- “Avoiding close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections;
- Frequent hand-washing, especially after direct contact with ill people or their environment;
- Avoiding close contact with live or dead farm or wild animals;
- Travelers with symptoms of acute respiratory infection should practice cough etiquette (maintain distance, cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing, and wash hands).”
Outbound flights from China, particularly Wuhan, are subject to additional inspection in the form of health screening/temperature check, and quarantine of suspected cases. These measures have already been implemented in countries inside and even outside the region – e.g. in the U.S., three airports (San Francisco International, JFK in New York and Los Angeles International) are currently screening passengers coming from Wuhan directly or via a connection.
The WHO has called for an emergency meeting.
As of 20 January 2020, four confirmed cases in Thailand (two cases), Japan (one case) and recently South Korea (one case) have been recorded. Health officials in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore and the Philippines are also under caution after suspected cases of travelers from Wuhan exhibiting similar symptoms were reported.
Recent travelers from the area experiencing fever or respiratory symptoms are advised to seek medical attention immediately.