New Coronavirus Infection: Latest Information and Guidance

By Dr. Rey Pagtakhan
Contributing Writer

As of January 27, 2020, the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) has NOT declared a public health emergency of international concern. This is good news since it reflects the immediate health risk to the general public posed by this infection is deemed low based on current information.

At the same time, its Emergency Committee is fully engaged monitoring the evolving public health situation. This means the infection remains a very serious public health threat.

Both the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Centres for Disease Control in the United States are as involved on their own. The International Center for Infectious Diseases in Winnipeg made the laboratory confirmation on the first Canadian male patient from Ontario, which reported yesterday that his wife confirmed positive for the virus but without clinical manifestation of the disease. The University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization in Saskatoon has embarked to develop the appropriate vaccine.

The foregoing activities point to a common and collaborative effort on the part of the international health community to be prepared as this public health situation continues to evolve. This is reassuring to know.

This column summarizes and supplements what has been reported in the literature on this infection.

Infectious Germ: Named “2019-nCoV” for the novel (new strain) CoronaVirus identified in 2019, this is the first time this specific virus strain has been identified in human respiratory illness.

Transmission: The infection spreads from person to person following close contact with the infected source. This manner of transmission has been observed in China, likely in the two cases now confirmed in Canada, (husband and wife), but there has been no such report of spread in the United States.

Incubation Period: The appearance of signs and symptoms following exposure to a source varies from 2 to 14 days.

Signs and Symptoms: They manifest like a flu, with the patients having fever, headache, runny nose, sore throat, cough, a general feeling of not being well, and shortness of breath. Not all of the symptoms need be present at the same time and they vary from mild to severe, including a pneumonia.

Diagnosis: Laboratory test is needed to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment: While no specific treatment exists, medications are available to help control the symptoms and signs of the illness.

Prognosis or Outlook: Most patients will spontaneously recover on their own.

Locations in the World: The first outbreak with this respiratory coronavirus infection was first recognized in Wuhan City in the Hubei Province of China. Thousands more have since been identified. In addition to China, Canada, and USA, cases of this infection have been confirmed in the following countries: Australia, Cambodia, France, Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Nepal, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, The Republic of Korea, and Vietnam.

Prevention: If you have the flu-like symptoms described above, you can prevent further spread of the coronavirus infection (assuming the new virus is the cause of the symptomatology) by doing the following: 1. “stay home; 2. avoid close contact with others; 3. cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze; 4. discard the tissue in the trash; and 5. wash your hands for about 20 seconds.”

NOTE WELL: When you or members of your family show signs and symptoms following close contact with a source, see your medical doctor for appropriate diagnosis and therapeutic management.

(Hon. Rey D. Pagtakhan, P.C, O.M., LL.D., Sc.D., M.D. is a retired lung specialist and professor of pediatrics and child health from the Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba Faculty of Medicine. As Canada’s former Secretary of State for Science, Research and Development, he presented on “The Global Threat of Infectious Diseases” at the G-8 Countries’ Science Ministers and Advisors Carnegie Group Meeting held on 13–15 June 2003 in Storkow, East Berlin, Germany.)