By Richard L Wade PhD, MPH
Principal Scientist, Omega
The emergence of a viral pneumonia (2019 nCoV – Coronavirus) in December in Wuhan, China has raised fears around the world as the virus spreads from this highly populated city of over 11 million people to the rest of China and into parts of Europe and North America.
This is a very dynamic disease outbreak and experts’ opinions are mixed regarding its potential to become a major worldwide epidemic. Limited understanding of the virus, including its pathogenicity, ability to change its genetic composition as it migrates from one species to another, incubation period, infectivity and ease of transmission has created uncertainty as to the degree of risk, even as fears are blamed for driving down the stock market and interrupting supply chains.
The Origins of the Outbreak
This coronavirus appears to have crossed the wild animal barrier at the seafood market in Wuhan, China. This market sold both fish and live wild animals. Coronaviruses are a common type of virus that caused both the MERS and SARS outbreaks. In both of these cases, the virus is believed to have originated in bats and crossed over to civet cats, camels, and other mammals. The virus was then transmitted to humans when they were exposed to live animals infected with the virus.
When the virus first appeared in mid-December, it was thought that only direct contact with these live virus-infected animals would cause respiratory pneumonia in humans. In January however, the incidence of this new type of pneumonia had grown to 400 cases and there was evidence of human to human transmission. Compilations of epidemiological forecasts show that one infected person can transmit the virus to between 1.4 and 2.5 other individuals. By Jan. 31, the number of human cases had grown to 9,700, with over 213 fatalities. On Jan. 30 the World Health Organization declared the virus to be the cause of a Global Health Emergency.
Risk of Secondary Transmission Seen
These estimates suggest a relatively low person-to-person transmission rate, but may not accurately represent the total number of cases currently in China or those within the 2-14 day incubation period. Other investigators suggest that China currently has up to 100,000 cases of pneumonia caused by this new virus as cases surface around the world caused by the migration of infected people. The U.S., Germany and France have reported secondary person-to-person transmission. In these countries, the secondary transmission was through a person traveling from China who infected one local resident with no exposure to China except for the index case. The infected individuals are in isolation and follow-up with people they may have been in contact with is ongoing.
China has adopted aggressive isolation practices and is limiting transportation programs in attempts to isolate and contain the virus. Other countries have implemented screening efforts to detect and isolate infected individuals. However, research reports from China suggest that screening efforts based solely on body temperature measurements may be inadequate if individuals are transmitting the virus before they have elevated temperatures.
While the virus is a serious threat to human health, it is worth remembering that in the U.S., 15 million people have been infected with influenza this season, with 140,000 hospitalizations and 8,200 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Omega Team Can Help Guide Efforts
At Omega Environmental, our team members have provided guidance to companies, health care facilities, the military and the media on best practice during previous outbreaks including SARS 2003 and Ebola 2015.
Our services can include a wide range of guidance, assessment, remediation and decontamination for environmental and microbial hazards. Our consultants can help your company or institution take the right steps with information, education, assessments and guidelines, including:
- Keeping clients up to date with current science-based findings related to worldwide and regional epidemics
- On site monitoring and evaluations including checks of HVAC systems, quantitative sanitation evaluations, general air quality, and site-specific and business-specific risk evaluations
Check this site for updates as they become available. To learn more about Omega Environmental Services, give us a call or click on the link below.
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