Nations step up screening and await word on China's pneumonia outbreak

Woman wearing mask at airport
Woman wearing mask at airport

macky_ch / iStock

As the world waits for more information about what triggered an unexplained pneumonia outbreak in Wuhan, China's tenth-largest city, reaction to the event continues to reverberate across Asia and beyond.

For example, Hong Kong continues to flag more sick travelers, though there's no sign any of the patients are linked to the Wuhan cluster, which is focused around a seafood market that also sold live animals such as chicken, bats, marmots, and other wild animals.

Wuhan's health department hasn't announced any new cases since Jan 5, keeping the total at 59, and so far there are no announcements about a pathogen, thought to be viral. So far tests have ruled out influenza, avian influenza, adenovirus, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV). The city is home to one of China's top labs, the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Some experts wonder if a novel coronavirus might be the cause of the outbreak.

Hong Kong respirator shortage

Hong Kong has identified 9 more sick travelers who recently visited Wuhan, and tests have already identified common respiratory viruses in four of them. According to the administrative region's Centre for Health Protection (CHP), 30 sick travelers have been evaluated since Dec 31, and 13 have been discharged.

In a related development, the CHP added unidentified pneumonia to its list of notifiable diseases, a step that gives authorities quarantine power. Also, the CHP announced a precautionary measure for blood donation, which said people who have visited Wuhan should defer donation for 14 days from their departure date.

Meanwhile, public fears of the unknown respiratory illness outbreak in a city hit by the SARS outbreak in 2003 have increased demand for N95 respirators, and supplies are running low in Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported today.

Some retailers have doubled or tripled the price of the masks in response to the increased demand, though doctors have said there's no signs that any cluster-related cases have been detected in Hong Kong.

Screening in Vietnam; US Embassy alert

In Vietnam, the health ministry has asked hospitals to monitor patients from or who have recently visited Wuhan and asked health departments to increase health checks at border gates and use remote body temperature devices, VN Express International, an online newspaper based in Hanoi, reported today.

Also, the US Embassy & Consulates in China today posted a health alert about Wuhan's unidentified pneumonia outbreak, following a US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) alert yesterday.

The US Embassy urged travelers to Wuhan to avoid live or dead animals, animal markets, and products that come from animals such as uncooked meat. It also advised travelers to avoid contact with sick people and to wash hands often with soap and water.

It also listed steps for Wuhan travelers who feel sick, including staying home except when seeking medical care, avoiding travel when sick, and calling ahead to the clinic or emergency department before seeking care.

See also:

Jan 7 CHP notifiable illness statement

Hong Kong CHP surveillance list

Jan 7 CHP statement on hospitalized patients

Jan 7 CHP blood donation announcement

Jan 7 SCMP story

Jan 7 VN Express story

Jan 7 US Embassy health alert

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