Novel Coronavirus Pneumonia in Wuhan, China

Chinese health authorities have reported 59 cases of viral pneumonia, with no deaths (at 5 January 2020), all confined to Wuhan city in Hubei Province, China. There is a common epidemiological link with the Wuhan South China Seafood City Market (also called the South China Seafood Wholesale Market and the Hua Nan Seafood Market). The market has been closed since January 1, 2020 for cleaning and disinfection.

A novel coronavirus has been identified in 15 cases as the likely causative agent. There is no evidence at this time of ongoing human to human transmission, and no reported cases in health care workers. Note that this new illness has not been reported from other parts of China or elsewhere. Most recent travellers from Wuhan with respiratory symptoms have been diagnosed with influenza, RSV or other common respiratory viruses. Human coronaviruses are common throughout the world and can cause mild to moderate upper- respiratory tract illnesses such as the common cold, as well as diarrhoea.

Human coronaviruses can sometimes cause severe lower-respiratory tract illnesses, such as pneumonia or bronchitis, as has been seen with SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome).

The Commonwealth Department of Health and Health Departments in all jurisdictions including South Australia are maintaining a watching brief on this outbreak.

Australia has excellent public health laboratory capacity to test for and identify viral and bacterial agents, and strong public health systems and border measures to detect and manage ill travellers. However there are no commercially available diagnostic tests for this new infectious agent.

Medical practitioners are advised to:

  • Be alert for patients of any age who have travelled to Wuhan, China, within two weeks of onset of illness AND who present with fever and respiratory symptoms.
  • Place a surgical mask on, and isolate, these patients as soon as they are identified.
  • Call the Communicable Disease Control Branch (CDCB) medical officer on 1300 232 272 (24/7) who can provide further information on recommended testing, personal protective equipment (PPE) and infection control, and further management.

Dr Ann Koehler – A/Director, Communicable Disease Control Branch

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