Unknown cause of viral pneumonia cases reported Jan. 5, 2020 in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. Maintain basic health precautions.

Severity: Warning Alert

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This alert began 07 Jan 2020 07:22 GMT and is scheduled to expire 07 Mar 2020 23:59 GMT.

  • Event: Unknown viral pneumonia outbreak
  • Affected Area: Wuhan, Hubei Province 
  • Cases: 59
  • Period: December 2019 - January 2020
  • Transmission: Likely respiratory (coughing, sneezing, speaking)

Summary
Chinese authorities have confirmed that the reported viral pneumonia cases are not related to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS); however, the cause of the infection remains unknown. As of Jan. 5, Wuhan, Hubei Province reported 59 cases. Laboratory investigation continues. All cases presented with severe pneumonia were hospitalized to receive treatment in isolation. This report represents the most complete information available as of Jan. 7.

Even though there is no evidence that the cause of the infection is related to SARS, diligent basic health precautions are recommended due to the severity of the infection and lack of evidence that influenza vaccine, antibiotics, or antiviral medications will prevent this disease. The risk of infection is highest in individuals who are in the healthcare professions in Wuhan. Individuals aged 60 years and older with pre-existing respiratory conditions or otherwise compromised immune systems are also more susceptible to respiratory pathogens such as SARS infection.

Background and Analysis
The first suspected SARS cases in 2019 occurred Dec. 12 in Wuhan, Hubei Province. Authorities first identified SARS in Guangdong Province, China, during 2002. In a prior outbreak, researchers found that virus-laden aerosols generated in a sewage drainage pipe spread to several floors and then were carried by natural air currents to other buildings in the complex. In other outbreaks, infection appeared to require close or direct contact with a SARS-infected person. "Direct contact" includes inhaling respiratory droplets from the cough or sneeze of an infected person near you. (In an airborne disease, the cough of an infectious person may infect an entire room.)

Symptoms of SARS appear two to 10 days after exposure. Symptoms include a temperature greater than 38 C (100.4 F) and respiratory symptoms such as severe cough, shortness of breath, and pneumonia. Diagnosis is made through tests performed on respiratory secretions or blood. It is likely that contaminated objects also serve as a source of infection. Previously known coronaviruses can survive for two to three hours in the environment, and there is evidence that the SARS virus may survive in the environment for 72 hours on plastic and steel surfaces. Wearing a face mask may benefit travelers, although the extent of benefit is unclear and will vary depending upon the fit and type of mask used. Significantly greater benefit can be achieved if the infected person, rather than the healthy person, wears a mask.

Advice
Emphasize basic health precautions, especially frequent handwashing with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable. There is no evidence that influenza vaccine, antibiotics or antiviral medications will prevent this disease, highlighting the importance of diligent basic health precautions.

If possible, avoid large gatherings of people and avoid situations in which you could be exposed to patients with viral pneumonia. Avoid close contact with suspected patients with viral pneumonia by refraining from direct care of patients or direct contact with respiratory secretions and body fluids of those suspected to be infected.

Resources
US CDC Travel Health Notice: wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices

Related Advice: Basic Health Precautions to Avoid Infection.