WHO: Coronavirus Not Yet A Global Health Threat

January 23, 2020

But “it may become one yet,” warns WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

It took them hours of debate over 2 days, but the World Health Organization (WHO) said that the Wuhan Coronavirus outbreak is not a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, director-general of the World Health Organization made the announcement today at a press conference.

“Make no mistake: This is an emergency in China,” Ghebreyesus said. “But it has not yet become a global health emergency. It may yet become one.”

The recommendation to not declare the outbreak a PHEIC was made during a meeting by a panel of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee at the United Nations’ Geneva Headquarters.

This committee convened to assess the situation on Wednesday, January 22nd but with an overwhelming amount of information to discuss and new developments in the situation, the decision was made to push the decision to today.

The decision was made based on the fact that public health efforts are being implemented to try to contain the disease and a low number of case counts overall.

The decision to not declare a PHEIC comes just 2 days after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the first Wuhan coronavirus case in the United States.

CDC has also raised its travel advisory to alert level 3, indicating a recommendation to avoid nonessential travel to Wuhan, China. The decision came after Chinese officials announced they would shut down all transportation in and out of Wuhan. 

In the press conference communicating the decision not to declare a PHEIC yet, director-general Ghebreyesus announced that 584 cases had so far been reported to WHO, including 17 deaths. 575 of the cases and all deaths have taken place within China.

The outbreak was originally tied to a seafood market in Wuhan, but new infections are no longer confined to the city.

WHO has also confirmed cases in Japan, Thailand, South Korea, and the United States.

China notified the WHO of a pneumonia outbreak of then-unknown etiology on December 31, 2019. On January 9, WHO released a statement explaining that Chinese scientists had discovered a new coronavirus responsible for the outbreak.

Clinicians should gather travel history information in any suspected patients.

The WHO case definitions include standards for patients with severe acute respiratory infection as well as acute respiratory illness.

A suspect case applies to patients with severe acute respiratory infection when there is no other etiology which fully explains clinical presentation and travel to or residence in Wuhan, or no other etiology and status as health care worker in an environment where severe acute respiratory infections of unknown etiology are being cared for.

A suspect case also applies to patients with any acute respiratory illness and close contact with a confirmed or probable case of novel coronavirus, working in an animal market, or working in a health care facility with reports of novel coronavirus in the 14 days prior to onset of symptoms.

Probable cases are defined as suspect cases where novel coronavirus testing is inconclusive or testing was positive on a pan-coronavirus assay. Confirmed cases are defined by laboratory confirmation of novel coronavirus infection.

 

This first appeared in Contagion®.