CDC official says “risk remains low at this time” for virus spreading in this country. Currently, the worst outbreaks are in China.
I had an opportunity to have lunch with the biosafety specialist and colleague this week, to do a preliminary risk assessment related to the Wuhan Coronavirus and its potential for the outbreak in China to blossom into a full-blown pandemic.
One of the biggest challenges in this exercise is the reliability of any of the data coming from China. Presently, we will assume that the death toll stands now at 169, with 7169 cases officially reported (including the five in the US).
Another data point that is lacking is precisely how easy is it to catch from another person? What is the viral load that a cough could create? How long does the virus live outside the body? These facts can be difficult to discern during the initial stages of an outbreak of a new pathogen.
Part of the process of obtaining reliable data is to screen passengers coming into this country, isolating potential cases during the evaluation process, and ascertaining whether an infection has occurred and what the health consequences are if someone has contracted the Wuhan Virus.
Therefore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now screening passengers arriving at 20 airports, which is an expansion from the original five where the procedures were first implemented.
U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar warned Tuesday that the coronavirus raging across mainland China is a “potentially very serious public health threat,” saying that the Trump administration is expanding screening for the virus from five to 20 U.S. airports.
“We are constantly preparing for the possibility that the situation could worsen,” Azar said during a press briefing on the nation’s response to the coronavirus…
“Americans should not worry about their own safety,” Azar said. “Part of the risk we face is we don’t know everything we need to know about this virus … That does not prevent us from preparing and responding.”
Some facts that are currently known about coronavirus are: The rate of mortality is presently about 2.3%, which is on par with influenza mortality rates (especially when statistics on the elderly are considered. The cause of death associated with the virus is mainly kidney failure and bacterial pneumonia, and primarily among older adults and those with pre-existing medical conditions.
Based on the fact that the coronavirus still has not spread beyond the five patients in the US that have already identified, and the data that is currently available, the CDC deems the current risk of it spreading in this country as low:
As of Monday, there have been no confirmed reports of human-to-human transmission in the United States. Chinese officials caused a bit of a firestorm over the weekend when they suggested that human-to-human transmission may be possible during the 2- to 14-day “incubation” period, when those sickened are still asymptomatic.
However, Nancy Messonnier, director of the agency’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said the CDC has “no clear evidence” of that at this point.
“At this time in the U.S., the virus is not spreading throughout the community,” she said. “The risk remains low at this time.”
The situation may be different in the other 16 countries to which the Wuhan Coronavirus has spread. The World Health Organization (WHO) will be reconvening this week to reassess the global health emergency status.
The coronavirus has spread to a handful of people through human-to-human contact outside of China, Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, said at a news conference at the organization’s Geneva headquarters Wednesday.
“These developments in terms of the evolution of the outbreak and further development of transmission, these are of grave concern and has spurred countries into action,” Ryan said, adding that he just returned from China on Wednesday. “What we know at this stage, this is still obviously a very active outbreak and information is being updated and changing by the hour.”
In this country, 195 Americans evacuated from Wuhan arrived in California, were greeted by medical professionals in hazmat suits, and are under voluntary quarantine.
American-based international firms (e.g., Amazon, Google) are telling those workers in China to work from home, and closing offices. There are currently 16 European and US airlines that have suspended flights to China.
In summary, the worst of these outbreaks seems to be contained in China. So, here’s the most practical advice I would give at this point:
- If you have been in China, especially in Wuhan or the other quarantined cities, and develop signs and symptoms of a cold or flu, then wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth, and go to the doctor after calling the office and expressing your concern. That will allow the medical staff to decide on appropriate infection control protocol.
- If you haven’t been to China or in direct contact with someone with an identified infection, and develop symptoms of a cold or flu…then wash your hands, cover your mouth, and make the decision about the kind of medical care you need without undue panic or anxiety.
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