Yesterday, the WHO announced that the Coronavirus outbreak in China is now a considered a public health emergency of international concern. This means that an extraordinary event is in process which constitutes a public health risk through the international spread of disease, and that a coordinated international response may be required. When the PHEIC is announced, this means that Infection Prevention experts believe that the situation is serious, unusual or unexpected; carries implications for public health beyond the affected state or country’s national border; and may require immediate international action.
From the WHO Committee meeting held yesterday (Jan 30, 2020), the following are key points:
- The Committee acknowledged that there are still many unknowns: cases have now been reported in five WHO regions in one month, and human-to-human transmission has occurred outside Wuhan and outside China.
- The Committee believes that it is still possible to interrupt virus spread, if countries put strong measures in place to detect disease early, isolate and treat cases, trace contacts, and promote social distancing measures commensurate with the risk. It is important to note that as the situation continues to evolve, so will the strategic goals and measures to prevent and reduce spread of the infection.
- The Committee emphasized that the declaration of a PHEIC should be seen in the spirit of support and appreciation for China, its people, and the actions China has taken on the frontlines of this outbreak, with transparency, and hopefully, with success. In line with the need for global solidarity, the Committee felt that a global coordinated effort is needed to enhance preparedness in other regions of the world that may need additional support.
- It is expected that further international exportation of cases may appear in any country. Thus, all countries should be prepared for containment, including active surveillance, early detection, isolation and case management, contact tracing and prevention of onward spread of 2019-nCoV infection, as well as to share full data with the WHO.
What does that mean to in terms of disinfection and infection prevention?
- In North America both Health Canada and the CDC have enacted guidance measures for emerging viral pathogens. This guidance is based on a hierarchy of susceptibility of viruses to disinfectants, recognizing that a product with efficacy against non-enveloped viruses will also be effective against enveloped viruses, which are much more readily inactivated.
- Health Canada’s Broad Spectrum Virucide claim requirement may be used to determine expected efficacy of a disinfectant against the virus. In accordance with the Guidance Document – Safety and Efficacy Requirements for Hard Surface Disinfectant Drugs, Health Canada considers that a registered disinfectant with submitted efficacy data against any of Poliovirus type 1, Chat strain, Human adenovirus type 5, Bovine parvovirus or Canine parvovirus is a broad-spectrum virucide, and is therefore expected to inactivate other enveloped and non-enveloped viruses. Coronaviruses are enveloped viruses, and would be expected to be readily inactivated by any Health Canada-registered broad-spectrum virucide.
- The EPA’s Emerging Viral Pathogen Guidance states that a registered hospital or broad-spectrum disinfectant product with claims against two small non-enveloped viruses, each from a different family, is expected to inactivate other enveloped and non-enveloped viruses.
What does this mean for you?
- The greatest risk of infection is for people in China or people who have traveled to China.
- It’s unclear how easily or sustainably this virus is spreading between people. There is proof of limited person-to-person spread among close contacts has been detected, however experts are not seeing the virus spreading within communities. This means the likelihood of someone getting sick with this virus is very low.
- Patients with 2019-nCoV have reportedly had mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough and/or shortness of breath.
- Like the cold or flu virus, there are simple actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, including:
- Avoiding close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
- Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces.
The key is not to panic. Yes, a new virus is scary, but it’s also kind of exciting. I do not mean that the lives lost are not meaningful, but that this is history in the making. This is a time that we need to reflect upon how the lives we live impact the environment and animals that we cohabitate this world with. It’s time to accept that we are the likely cause for the increased number of zoonotic diseases we are coming up against.