Sri Lanka is on alert for the new virus that could lead to serious illness but there is no cause for panic, assured a top health official.All hospitals have been alerted to be vigilant for any severe respiratory infections as well as any change in patterns in the light of the novel coronavirus (nCoV) detected in West Asia, said Chief Epidemiologist Paba Palihawadana, explaining that the infection generally seemed to present itself as pneumonia.
A large number of Sri Lankans work in West Asia and there is massive movement between Sri Lanka and those countries. The nCoV, although not previously identified in humans, is not showing a fast spread like some we have seen worldwide in the past 10 years. The nCoV had been around for nearly a year now, she said, reiterating that “our reporting and surveillance systems are in place to detect patients”.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) had not seen the need yet to screen those coming into the country from abroad, Dr. Palihawadana said.So far, according to the WHO, it has been informed of a global total of 15 confirmed cases of nCoV, with nine deaths, mostly in Saudi Arabia. A ‘confirmed case’ is a person with laboratory confirmation of infection with nCoV.
The US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) reported that the other cases were from Jordan, Qatar and Britain.Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which cause a range of diseases, from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), it is learnt. Pointing out that the WHO has not recommended any travel or trade restrictions due to nCoV, Dr. Palihawadana was quick to allay fears by explaining that reporting systems were in place since H1N1. The notification system for any unusual patterns in severe acute respiratory infections also applies to private hospitals.
If there are any suspected cases, there are some tests that can be carried out in Sri Lanka, but for confirmation of the virus, the specimens of respiratory secretions would be sent to the reference laboratories in Pune (India), Thailand or Hong Kong, said Dr. Palihawadana.The other option, of course, would be for Sri Lanka to establish its own laboratory facilities, with WHO assistance, but the establishment of controls and importation of reagents would take time, it is learnt.
While the WHO website explained that the cases of nCoV occurring in the same family raised the possibility of human-to-human transmission, it could also be that they were exposed to the same source of infection in a household or workplace. Bats may be one possibility, but the origin of the virus is yet to be established.Investigations are underway to determine the virus source, types of exposure that lead to infection, mode of transmission and the clinical pattern and course of disease, the WHO said, adding that there is no vaccine currently available. There is no specific treatment for nCoV as well. However, many of the symptoms can be treated.
Comparing nCoV to SARS which was identified in 2003, it says that they are “distantly related” as they belong to the same large family but an important difference seems to be that nCoV does not appear to transmit easily between people unlike the SARS virus which was much more transmissible.
Explaining how the name ‘coronaviruses’ came about, the CDC states that they are named for the crown-like spikes on their surface. “They are common viruses that most people get in their lifetime which usually cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses,” it says, adding that they may also infect animals, usually only one animal species or, at most, a small number of closely related species. However, SARS can infect people and animals, including monkeys, civets, rodents, cats and dogs.
Courtesy Sunday Times