On 31 December 2019, a cluster of pneumonia of unknown cause was reported in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China. The cause of this viral pneumonia has now been identified as a new type of coronavirus (2019-ncoV), which is different from any other human coronaviruses discovered so far.
Coronaviruses are a large family of respiratory viruses that can cause diseases ranging from the common cold to the Middle-East Respiratory Syndrome and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.
The clinical signs and symptoms of the patients reported in this new infection resemble flu-like symptoms and initial symptoms, which usually appear 14 days after infection, include fever, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, malaise, headache, muscle pain or malaise and there could be breathing difficulty.
From currently available information, preliminary investigation suggests that human-to-human transmission is occurring and infections among health care workers have been reported. More information is required to better understand the mode of transmission and clinical manifestation of this new virus. At present there is no vaccine to protect against this infection.
As per latest information more than 200 cases of 2019-nCoV have been reported in various cities in China including Shenzhen, Guangdong and possibly Shanghai. Confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV with travel to Wuhan have been reported in Thailand (2 cases), Japan and South Korea (1 case each). Suspected case is being investigated in Australia (Brisbane), and Singapore, Vietnam, Nepal, Hong Kong, and Taiwan are monitoring a number of suspected cases.
“Considering how close these countries are to Solomon Islands, and the number of people travelling especially in the upcoming Lunar New Year season, the likelihood of importation of this infection in Solomon Islands cannot be ruled out. We want to reassure the public we are preparing for that possibility,” Permanent Secretary Mrs Pauline McNeil said.
The MHMS has formed a technical working group, including experts from the World Health Organization, and UNICEF. The essential medical supplies to handle cases of 2019-nCoV are being mobilized, and development partners are standing by with additional resources should these be needed. As a ‘first line’ of defence MHMS is working with immigration and customs officials at ports and airports, training them on how to recognise cases of 2019-nCoV, incoming visitors will be provided with guidance on what to do if they think they have the infection.
In the meantime, Mrs McNeil said the public should remain alert for signs or symptoms of the disease especially if they have visited Wuhan in past 15 days or have come in close contact with someone returning from affected countries and had similar symptoms. These patients should contact their local clinic or nurse aid post if they think they could possibly have the disease, calling in advance if possible, so that they can be assessed at home or isolated on arrival at the health facility. Anyone with suspected infection should avoid public transport and public spaces and remain at home except to seek professional health care, or as advised by a health professional.
To prevent the infection from spreading to others, practice health habits such as cover cough and sneezes, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, and wash your hands often. If your family member has flu-like infection, limit contact with the family member and keep your house clean.