The death toll from a new global virus threat rose to at least nine as experts from around the world gathered Wednesday in Switzerland to determine how to best manage the outbreak.
The World Health Organization’s emergency committee, meeting in Geneva, will determine whether the outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern, or a PHEIC. The panel has made similar declarations for outbreaks of SARS, MERS, Ebola, Zika and swine flu.
Declaring a PHEIC gives the WHO director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, powers to issue recommendations to countries to combat the new virus, although WHO has no enforcement power.
The U.S. representative at the meeting is Martin Cetron, who heads the division of Global Migration and Quarantine at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The first U.S. case, reported Tuesday, involves a resident in his 30s who first displayed symptoms Sunday. He was listed in good condition at Providence Regional Medical Center in Snohomish County north of Seattle.
“Our first priority remains public safety,” said Washington State Secretary of Health John Wiesman. “We believe the risk to the public is low. And as this situation evolves, we will continue to communicate with the CDC, Snohomish County and the public.”
China has identified 440 cases and nine deaths, mostly in central Hubei province. But the virus has spread to other parts of China, and cases have also been confirmed in Thailand, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe infections such as pneumonia, Middle East respiratory syndrome (known as MERS), and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Common signs of infection include fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, kidney failure or death.
The CDC, which began enhanced health screenings last week at airports in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles, said Atlanta and Chicago would be added to the list. All traveling from Wuhan, China – where the outbreak began – to the U.S. are rerouted to these airports.
President Donald Trump told reporters Wednesday his administration has a plan to block any outbreak of the coronavirus, saying the CDC “has been terrific.”
There is no vaccine, although nine studies are examining coronavirus vaccine development. There is no specific treatment for the coronavirus, but recommended measures are similar to those for a cold, such as rest and drinking a lot of fluid.
WHO said basic measures to curb spread of the virus include avoiding close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections, frequent hand-washing and avoiding unprotected contact with farm or wild animals.
WHO does not recommend any specific health measures for travelers. In case of symptoms suggestive of acute respiratory illness either during or after travel, the travelers are encouraged to seek medical attention and share their travel history with their health care provider.
Contributing: Grace Hauck
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