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‘I am substantially more concerned than I was a week ago’: Growing fears of spreading coronavirus


Amanda Lyons


21/01/2020 3:22:21 PM

With more than 300 reported cases, authorities have confirmed the virus can be transmitted between humans – and may already be in Australia.

Crowd of people with facemasks
Public health authorities within China and around the world are keeping a close watch on the new coronavirus.

UPDATED

Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy has said the risk of a large-scale outbreak is low, but admits there is ‘no way of preventing this getting into the country if this becomes bigger’.

Professor Murphy’s declaration came amid fears a man who arrived in Australia from China with flu-like symptoms may have contracted coronavirus.
 
Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said earlier the results may not be known for several days as authorities require further medical information from China, but he has since been released from home isolation.
 
‘At the moment we can only do a generic test for coronavirus,’ Dr Young said.
 
‘We can’t do the specific test for this specific virus because we haven’t seen it before, so we’ve got to develop the specific tests to be able to say it’s this particular virus.
 
‘We don’t have the primer yet. The World Health Organization released [the primer] after China gave them specifics, so that’s now available.

‘We need to obtain the primers that have been developed against this specific coronavirus.’
 
The man was originally identified for testing after presenting to his GP with flu-like symptoms last month, leading Queensland authorities to ask GPs to collect specimens from any suspected cases and to send them to Brisbane.

It is believed the man has family near the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the current outbreak started.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has raised the level of travel advice for Wuhan, and is urging anyone who plans to visit the city to check the Smartraveller website and exercise a high degree of caution.


The number of reported cases of the novel coronavirus in China – now known as 2019-nCoV – has risen to more than 300, almost triple the number from last week. Authorities have also confirmed the virus, which is believed to have been sourced from animals and has so far claimed six lives, can be transmitted between humans.
 
The virus has now spread to Chinese cities other than Wuhan, including to places hundreds of kilometres away. Cases have also been reported in Japan, South Korea and Thailand.
 
Some scientists believe the disease, which is more closely related to SARS than any other coronavirus found in humans, may have already spread more widely than is reflected in the official figures.
 
‘For Wuhan to have exported three cases to other countries would imply there would have to be many more cases than have been reported,’ Professor Neil Ferguson, a scientist who specialises in analysing disease outbreaks, said.
 
‘I am substantially more concerned than I was a week ago.’
 
But Professor Murphy has been clear in his belief that Australia is at low risk.
 
‘There is no need for alarm, and the risk to the Australian public from this novel coronavirus remains relatively low,’ he said.
 
Professor Murphy added, however, that stricter screening measures would apply to direct flights travelling from Wuhan to Sydney in response to the ‘rapidly emerging situation’. The flights will be met by border security, biosecurity and staff from NSW Health.
 
‘Australia has well established mechanisms to respond to ill travellers at points of entry,’ he said. 
 
Professor Murphy also warned that, because 2019-nCoV has a one-week incubation period, it may not be possible to prevent its spread to Australia in the event of a large-scale outbreak.
 
‘You cannot absolutely prevent entry into the country of a disease like this,’ he said. ‘There’s no way of preventing this getting into the country if this becomes bigger.’

Screening measures have also been implemented within Wuhan itself, with checkpoints installed at the airport, train stations and bus terminals, while airports in Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong and three major American cities are also screening passengers from the Chinese city. Experts have also expressed concerns about the impact the Lunar New Year holidays, during which hundreds of millions travel around China, may have on the spread of the disease.
 
The situation is being closely monitored by global health authorities, with the World Health Organization (WHO) this week convening an emergency committee on the virus. Neither the WHO nor the Chinese Government has recommended any travel restrictions.
 
Dr Young has urged anyone returning from China with respiratory issues to visit their GP immediately.
 
‘At this stage, anyone who returns from Wuhan, if they develop any respiratory conditions or anything, we’re asking GPs to collect specimens and to send them to Brisbane,’ Dr Young said.
 
‘The advice is that anyone who travels to Wuhan and comes back and is unwell, for them to go and see their GP or emergency department, and to isolate themselves.
 
‘There is no vaccine for this virus and we don’t see one on the horizon.’
 
Important 2019-nCoV facts
  • High fever is the most common symptom of the virus, but other symptoms include a cough, breathlessness and sore throat.
  • In severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death, the WHO says.
  • The virus has an incubation period of one week, meaning people with the bug might not show symptoms over that period.
  • All of the confirmed cases have been in adults and no children have been infected.
  • In the severe or fatal cases, the people were already sick or had other medical conditions.
With AAP
 
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Dr Mark Raines   21/01/2020 9:41:11 PM

Maybe the advise from Dr Young should be to stay home, contact Public Health and decide from there what to do. I'd prefer my waiting room of elderly and chronic disease patients not to be in the line of this infectious disease. Likewise, I'd prefer not to get this myself - I know that's me being a selfish bastard.


Dr James Courts   22/01/2020 7:57:55 AM

"Zhong Nanshan, one of China’s top SARS experts, said there was evidence one patient alone had spread the virus to 14 medical workers.

“The key to controlling the spread of the disease now is about preventing the emergence of a superspreader (of the virus),” he said."

Maybe public health may wish to reconsider their immediate knee jerk reaction of "go immediately to your GP"

Maybe stay at home if not too unwell and call public health for testing/advice. If severely unwell - well then that's a trip to hospital and pre-warn them. Can't see what what a trip to GP solves apart from infecting the waiting room and us.


Dr Arshad Hussain Merchant   22/01/2020 8:21:42 AM

I disagree that patients with coronavirus virus symptoms turn up to GPs or ED, this will put front line healthcare professionals lives at serious risk. I propose a central health line to screen symptoms or online question form, followed by a secured dedicated area at public health office for proper screening. All hospitals have these and public health has ample staff to take the pressure from alreadpressured GP and ED seevic


Dr Kate   22/01/2020 9:27:53 AM

So, is anyone from public health going to tell us all what KIND of specimens we are to collect if we are suspicious of this illness? Not mentioned in the article above, but I am assuming a resp virus nasal swab with specific request to test for coronavirus, or is there something else we should send? No point in telling us there's a problem without giving us a tool. And I agree, GP waiting rooms not the best place for people to be sent.


Dr James Courts   22/01/2020 12:41:29 PM

Yes Mark, what is the medicare item number for one week off work sick?


Dr Juanita Susan Ruiz   22/01/2020 1:00:08 PM

Last time with sars wasn’t there a call out for GPs willing to go to hospital to man clinics to test patients? All this with protective gear and special air flow ?wouldnt that be better? We could assess at risk patients safely and protect our other patients


Dr Eric John Drinkwater   22/01/2020 1:33:57 PM

"Dr Young has urged anyone returning from China with respiratory issues to visit their GP immediately." ... OMG seriously !!?

"‘The advice is that anyone who travels to Wuhan and comes back and is unwell, for them to go and see their GP or emergency department, and to isolate themselves."

... so what is it!? spread it around or home isolate ... man we had to put up with this BS in the H1N1 debacle


Dr Jane Elizabeth Opie   22/01/2020 4:54:00 PM

The public health message here is a major concern. No mention of personal protective equipment - patients with symptoms should if presenting to any facility wear an effective mask.
As mentioned by others what is the best specimen for collection - presumably nasopharyngeal using a flocked swab such as during H1N1 response.
I hope this info has been updated however saw nothing at work today in spite of looking up the Victorian public health website for alerts.
This is another example of how our health system does not work as an integrated system given State vs Commonwealth funding etc; and how GPs are left out of the loop in any integrated and effectively funded way re need for potential emergency response


Dr Jane Elizabeth Opie   22/01/2020 8:17:00 PM

The public health message here is a major concern. No mention of personal protective equipment - patients with symptoms should if presenting to any facility wear an effective mask.
As mentioned by others what is the best specimen for collection - presumably nasopharyngeal using a flocked swab such as during H1N1 response.
I hope this info has been updated however saw nothing at work today in spite of looking up the Victorian public health website for alerts.
This is another example of how our health system does not work as an integrated system given State vs Commonwealth funding etc; and how GPs are left out of the loop in any integrated and effectively funded way re need for potential emergency response


Dr David Zhi Qiang Yu   26/01/2020 1:04:11 PM

I disagree that patients with coronavirus virus symptoms turn up to GP Clinic. I would prefer our waiting room of elderly, chronic disease patients as well as healthcare professionals not to be in the line of this infectious disease. I would like the potential patients to call public health unit or some central screening facilities and turn up to a secured dedicated area at public health office for proper screening. All hospitals have these and public health has ample staff to take the pressure from already pressured GP.