Wednesday, May 22, 2024

The New Virus in China; Should we be worried?

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On 31st December, China informed WHO of an outbreak of a novel Respiratory virus affecting hundreds of people in Wuhan province. By 24th January 2020, 830 cases had been recorded with close to 20 deaths.

What do we know about this virus?

It belongs to a group of viruses called Coronavirus [Corona meaning crownlike appearance]. These are well known zoonotic virus (occurring in animals). The group was discovered to have caused the first human infection in 1965 but only a few cases were recorded. It is responsible for about 15-20% of common colds. The largest outbreak from this type of virus was in 2002 in Guangdong Province, China. This infection caused Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome [SARS] which was named SARS-Coronavirus [SARS-CoV]. At the end of the pandemic, there were 8096 people infected from 29 countries and about 774 deaths globally. The second outbreak started Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 2012 by the Middle East Respiratory virus [MERS], a type of Coronavirus. Fewer people were affected but had a higher mortality than SARS. The Wuhan out break named 2019-nCoV is the third outbreak from corona viruses in two decades.

What are the symptoms?

The Wuhan virus has similar symptoms to SARS and MERS. Common symptomatology is malaise (generalised weakness), headache, chills, fever, runny nose, sore throat and a cough. Symptoms can be mild to severe requiring hospitalization and death. Diarrhoea and kidney failure occurs in some people.

How is it spread?

All Coronaviruses are respiratory viruses meaning they are transmitted airborne. Most transmission occurs in hospitals, hotels, markets and airplanes. In most cases, the disease is mild but can be severe causing deaths in over 50% of the elderly, people with low immunity and hospitalised patients. Healthcare workers are at increased risk of contracting the infection. Recently, an elderly doctor treating patients with the virus died from the same disease.

Should we be worried?

YES! The increased trade between china and Zambia since the first outbreak of SARS puts us at risk. The fact that transmission can occur from infected people without symptoms, means someone can easily travel and spread the disease especially through air travel. The move by Chinese authorities to lock down Wuhan is the right move based on lessons learnt from the SARS which resulted in over 8000 people infected.

What should Zambia do to avoid possible outbreak?

The first thing is to increased alertness and screening for fever at all entry points especially airports. This is being done I believe so, due to the Ebola outbreak in the neighbouring DRC..

However, I propose a step further that Zambia National Airports (ZNAC) and Zambia National Public Institute (ZNPHI) introduces a screening questionnaire to include questions on air travel, contact with people from China mainland or transit in the past 2 to 3 weeks. Symptoms like weakness, headache and sore throat should also be screened for in the questionnaire. Screening for fever alone will miss close to half of possible cases.

Secondly, Government should identify a quarantine facility as soon as possible for a possible epidemic preparedness. A toll free line should be set up for people experiencing symptoms to call. Admitting or screening possible cases from already existing facilities like UTH would be a disaster as thousands of people would be infected within a few days. Health facilities should procure and store N95 masks and health workers at entry points should always use N95 masks whenever they are assessing a possible case, or anyone suspected to have the infection.

The country should have enough face masks ready for distribution to the public should we get even a single case.

The Call!

1. Avoid high-risk places like hospitals  see below

Lets restrict number of visitors at UTH -ZMA

2. If you recently traveled to China or came into contact with a person who recently traveled to China and has any symptoms, please call for help via the toll-free lines!

HEALTH WORKERS SHOULD EVALUATE POSSIBLE CASES EITHER FROM THEIR HOMES OR A QUARANTINE FACILITY IDENTIFIED.

2. Lastly, WHO should declare the Wuhan epidemic a Public Health Emergency of International concern as there is a record of cases outside China!
Together, we can beat the threat of new and emerging infectious disease.

Dr Francis Mupeta
Infectious Disease Specialist

3 COMMENTS

  1. It is global and can affect anyone. Being worried does not help but taking measures to reduce chances of getting infected just as you do with hiv etc , is what we should concentrate on. We just hope our friends in opposition will not find a way to politicise this situation. We know how childish they are. Kz

  2. “Screen Chinese nationals in Zambia for the “mysterious” New Corona virus, UPND demands”
    The UPND made this pronouncement a week ago while the PF was busy mobilizing 200 police officers for the Chilubi bye-election ignoring the violence and insecurity in Chingola.

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