As Novel Coronavirus Outbreak Continues, WHO, CDC Urge Heightened Vigilance

May 23, 2013 05:15 pm News Staff

As of May 22, 43 laboratory-confirmed cases -- 21 of which have proved fatal -- of novel coronavirus (nCoV) infection had been reported to the World Health Organization( (WHO).

According to a recent update( from the CDC, which is closely monitoring the outbreak, 31 of the nCoV cases were reported in Saudi Arabia, along with a handful of others from Qatar, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and elsewhere. Other cases -- three in the United Kingdom, two in France and one in Germany -- were reported in Europe.

The two most recent laboratory-confirmed cases -- in a brother and sister, both in their mid-30s -- showed up in Tunisia, said the WHO in a May 22 update.

"Both of them had mild respiratory illness and did not require hospitalization," the update said. "Retrospective investigation into the cases revealed that the probable case, their (66-year-old) father, became ill three days after returning from a visit to Qatar and Saudi Arabia on 3 May 2013. He was admitted to a hospital after developing acute respiratory disease. His condition deteriorated and he died on 10 May 2013."

In another recent case cluster, two health care workers were exposed to patients with confirmed nCoV infection in Saudi Arabia, marking the first time health care workers have been diagnosed with nCoV infection after exposure to patients.

"Health care facilities that provide care for patients with suspected nCoV infection should take appropriate measures to decrease the risk of transmission of the virus to other patients and health care workers," said the CDC. "Health care facilities are reminded of the importance of systematic implementation of infection prevention and control."

The CDC said it continues to work closely with the WHO and other partners to better understand the public health risk presented by the nCoV infections.

"There is clear evidence of limited human-to-human transmission, possibly involving different modes of transmission, such as droplet and contact transmission," the CDC said in the update. "But further studies are required to better understand the risks. The efficiency of person-to-person transmission of novel coronavirus is not well characterized."

This particular strain of coronavirus has not been previously identified in humans, according to the WHO. Health care professionals are being advised to maintain a heightened level of vigilance and pay particular attention to travelers who have recently returned from the Middle East and who develop severe acute respiratory illness (SARI). These people should be tested for nCoV, and specimens from patients' lower respiratory tracts should be obtained for diagnosis where possible.

In addition, said the WHO in its update, "Clinicians are reminded that nCoV infection should be considered even with atypical signs and symptoms, such as diarrhea, particularly in patients who are immunocompromised."

CDC officials recommend that physicians and other health care professionals manage patients under investigation and those with probable or confirmed nCoV infection according to infection control recommendations( recently issued by the WHO and report cases under investigation for nCoV infection to the CDC.