Coronavirus: Viral threat goes global
A BRISBANE man could be Australia's first case of a new SARS-like illness after he visited family in Wuhan, China, where hundreds of people have been admitted to hospital and four have died from the virus.
Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young, who has declared the virus a "public health incident of state significance", said her team had checked contacts of the man but no one else had reported being ill.
Although the man was placed in temporary isolation, he has fully recovered and is no longer considered a risk to others. But he is still awaiting test results to confirm whether he had the new strain of coronavirus - part of the same family as severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.
Dr Young said Queensland Health had issued an "important public health alert" to general practitioners, hospital emergency departments and other medical groups on January 10 advising them to be aware of potential cases of the Wuhan virus.
The possible Queensland case returned from that city on January 8.
Queensland Health has only recently received the DNA sequences of the virus, known as primers, needed to definitively diagnose the new coronavirus strain.
Test results are expected in the next couple of days.
Australian health authorities have ramped up surveillance measures after the World Health Organisation revealed the virus was being transmitted from human to human, with some health workers affected. The novel virus was first detected in Wuhan last month.
"There's no vaccine at this stage for this virus and we don't see one on the horizon," Dr Young said.
"There's no specific treatment other than supportive care."
But she described the virus as "variable" in terms of its impact.
"From China, we understand that they've seen around 200 cases admitted to hospital and out of those, nine have been serious," Dr Young said.
"It is causing severe illness in a small number of people.
"In the more critical cases, the people have developed pneumonia."
The new coronavirus strain is believed to have spread from animals to people through Wuhan's South China Seafood City Market, which also sells chickens, bats, marmots and other wild animals.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
What is a Coronavirus?
It is a term for a large group of viruses common among animals, which in rare cases can be transmitted from animals to humans.
Where did this outbreak begin?
In Wuhan, China, a new virus has been detected in the same family as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 800 people in 2002-03. So far China has confirmed more than 200 cases of the new virus, and three people are known to have died.
Has it been reported elsewhere?
Yes, in Thailand, South Korea and Japan. A Brisbane man is also being tested.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms can include a runny nose, cough, sore throat, headache and in some cases fever.
How does it spread?
Coronaviruses usually spread from human contact with animals. If the strain is severe,
it can spread from person to person via a cough, sneeze or handshake.
What should I do if I think I have the virus?
Anyone who has developed any respiratory symptoms within 14 days of travel to Wuhan is urged to see their GP immediately
Dr Young said that the virus caused flu-like symptoms, including a sore throat, fever and coughing. Although cases have been reported in Japan, Thailand and South Korea, she said the biggest concern was for people travelling to and from China, particularly Wuhan.
"There are a lot of Chinese who do travel between Australia and China, particularly as we're moving in the Chinese New Year Festival period," Dr Young said.
"The advice is that anyone who travels to Wuhan and then comes back and is unwell to go and see their GP or an emergency department and to isolate themselves."
Griffith University's Nigel McMillan said he was not "overly concerned" about the virus taking hold in Australia because "our surveillance is really good".
"SARS essentially got shut down because of our great surveillance," director of infectious diseases and immunology at the Menzies Health Institute Professor MacMillan, said.
"The same thing, I think, will happen with this virus.
"We've just got to realise that viruses are part of the environment. New ones pop up fairly regularly. It's through having really good public health measures and controls that we keep on top of them."
Health professionals across the country have been provided with broad details about the disease, with updates expected over the coming days as more information becomes available. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade set travel advice to Wuhan at level two - to exercise a high-degree of caution.
There are two higher levels, reconsider your need to travel and do not travel.
The Matildas Australian women's soccer team are due to play an Olympic qualifying match in the city in 13 days.