Brisbane suspects novel coronavirus case

Tuesday, 21 January, 2020

Brisbane suspects novel coronavirus case

Queensland Health is testing a man for coronavirus (2019-nCoV) after he returned from central China with a respiratory illness.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. 2019-nCoV is a new strain that is responsible for the recent outbreak in Wuhan, a large city in China.

“Because the man travelled to Wuhan, coronavirus is one of the conditions he is being tested for,” said a Queensland Health spokesperson. “The man will remain in isolation until his symptoms have resolved.

“We are closely monitoring the coronavirus outbreak in China. The Commonwealth is working with states and territories to develop Australia’s response.

“We urge anyone who has developed any respiratory symptoms within 14 days of travel to Wuhan to see their GP immediately.”

The Queensland Health release comes days after a confirmed case of novel coronavirus 2019-nCoV in Japan — a case was also identified in Thailand on 13 January. The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed that this new Japanese case was identified in a person who travelled to Wuhan, China, where the outbreak initially occurred.

On 10 January, WHO published information on how to monitor for cases, treat patients, prevent onward transmission in healthcare facilities, maintain necessary supplies and communicate with the public about 2019-nCoV. The information includes advice on how to maintain hand and respiratory hygiene, and safe food and market practices.

Associate Professor Adam Kamradt-Scott is an expert in the spread and control of infectious diseases at the Centre for International Security Studies at the University of Sydney.

“The identification of a new case in Japan of the novel coronavirus which has caused the death of two people and infected approximately 40 individuals in Wuhan, China, is not an entirely unexpected development,” Professor Kamradt-Scott said.

“But it does provide further cause for the international community to act rapidly to try and contain this virus before it spreads further. The more concerning aspect about this latest case is that whereas the first cases were identified to have travelled to local food markets, the cases in Thailand and now Japan have reportedly not visited these sites, which indicates the virus may have achieved limited human-to-human transmission — although it must be stressed this has yet to be proven.

“To their credit, the Chinese Government has been quick to share the genome sequencing of this novel coronavirus, which has assisted us in being able to rapidly test for the presence of the virus in suspected cases. This has enabled the identification of this new case in Japan,” Professor Kamradt-Scott said.

“Given that there are direct flights between Sydney and Wuhan, which is currently the epicentre of the virus, there is a reasonable chance that we might see cases emerge in Australia. Given our public health system, we are well placed to care for anyone who might have contracted the virus, but it is only through international cooperation that we will see this novel pathogen contained.”

Professor of Infectious Diseases Epidemiology Allen Cheng from the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Monash University said, “Early studies have suggested that this virus is related to the SARS coronavirus that caused a major global outbreak in 2003, and the MERS coronavirus that has caused cases since 2012.

“Health authorities in Australia have put out warnings for doctors to be on the lookout for cases of respiratory illness in returned travellers from Wuhan and to take appropriate precautions. Although no specific advice has been issued for travellers to China, it would be prudent to avoid live animal markets in Wuhan. Travellers returning from Wuhan should also be aware of the possibility of respiratory infections, and to let their doctors know of their travel,” he said.

When asked about the likelihood of seeing cases of the virus in Australia, Professor Raina MacIntyre, Professor of Global Biosecurity and Head of the Biosecurity Research Program at the Kirby Institute at UNSW Medicine, said, “It is always possible we will see a travel-related case here. Wuhan is an economic hub and a much larger city than Guangzhou, where SARS arose, so we may see more travel-related cases.

“In research which we did on MER-CoV, we showed travel-related risk associated with frequency of international flights in and out of Saudi Arabia. In the same way, the volume of travel from China to Australia will determine the risk of travel-related cases occurring here.”

The Australian Government Department of Health is watching developments very closely. Under Australian legislation, airlines must report passengers on board showing signs of an infectious disease, including fever, sweats or chills.

Planes reporting ill travellers are met on arrival by biosecurity officers who make an assessment and take necessary actions, such as isolation and referral to hospital where required.

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