GENEVA, 14 Jan 2020:
The World Health Organisation has deployed a series of prevention measures in hospitals around the world amid a transmission risk of a novel coronavirus with origins in China.
“WHO is working with our network, our researchers and other experts to coordinate global work on surveillance, epidemiology, modeling, diagnostics, clinical care, and treatment, and other ways to identify and manage the disease and limit onwards transmission,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said in a press conference today.
“We are also working closely with countries to help them prepare for the rapid detection and response to cases or clusters.”
WHO yesterday said it was working with officials in Thailand and China after reports an individual in Thailand was diagnosed with the novel disease.
The person had travelled from Wuhan, in China, and was hospitalised on Jan 8 after being identified by Thai officials, the health institution said.
The threat of super-spreading events, which have happened in the past with SARS, have pushed WHO to put the new virus on its radar, WHO technical consultant Maria Van Kerkhove warned at the press conference.
“Critically we need to know the source of this outbreak. Where is this virus coming from? How are people getting infected?”
The outbreak so far has only affected the city of Wuhan, Hubei Province in China, reportedly linked to a large seafood and animal market.
The Wuhan market is currently being investigated by WHO and Chinese experts.
“We need to better understand the modes of transmission. How are people getting transmission from a potential animal source? And is there any evidence of human to human transmission?”
Although transmission, potentially between families, has been recorded, what is clear is there is no sustained human-to-human transmission, Van Kerkhove added.
The WHO expert said key to containing the outbreak is to better understand how to treat an infected animal source and how to prevent transmission between people.
In response to the spread of the virus beyond China, WHO has called for active monitoring globally and issued guidance on how to detect and treat those with the new illness.
China has shared the genetic sequence of the virus, which will enable rapid diagnosis of patients in other countries. It was this sequence that helped Thailand identify the infected person.
“So far 41 suspected cases have tested positive in China for the new coronavirus. Of the 41 cases seven have been discharged, six were considered severe cases and one person has died.
“Other patients are reported to be in a stable condition. The reported dates of symptom onset ranged between Dec 8 and Jan 2,” Jasarevic said.
WHO has been in regular and direct contact with Chinese and Thai authorities since the reporting of these cases.
Van Kerkhove said the coronaviruses being researched by WHO are all zoonotic viruses – meaning they can be transmitted between animals and humans and there is also the possibility of human-to-human transmission.
“What we have seen from both SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and from MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) is we have had limited human to human transmission, and that there are amplification events,” Van Kerkhove told reporters.
“There is the possibility that transmission can be amplified. Most notably in health care facilities.”
In both China and Thailand, no health care workers have been infected reported to date – despite this being a typical hallmark of other coronaviruses.
Chinese health authorities have been monitoring over 700 people who were in contact with patients, including hospital and other health center workers, although no new cases have been detected since Jan 3 – except for the one diagnosed in Thailand.
Coronaviruses are a family of pathogens that range from the common cold to the MERS and SARS. Symptoms of the novel coronavirus include breathing difficulties, cough, fever, shortness of breath and pneumonia.