2020-01-22 01:51:06 Health officials around the world are racing to gauge the danger posed by a new SARS-like virus that emerged in central China last month and spread rapidly, sickening hundreds and killing at least six.
Authorities are acting aggressively as the number of cases in China has grown to more than 300 and stretched to five additional countries, including the first diagnosis in the U.S. The World Health Organization will decide Wednesday whether to declare the virus an international public health emergency, a designation used for complex epidemics that can cross borders.
As they did during the SARS and Ebola outbreaks, health officials and scientists are tracking patients and testing samples of saliva and other fluids to determine the exact cause and severity of their ailments. They’re identifying and monitoring people with whom the patients were in contact to see if the virus is spreading easily from person to person. And they are placing restrictions on travel to try to limit the exposure to scores of new people.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expanded its inspection of airline passengers who had spent time in China to airports in Atlanta and Chicago on Tuesday, building on the 1,200 people who had been screened in California and New York over the weekend. No new cases were uncovered. Six patients in China have died from the infection, which also sickened health-care workers who were caring for them.
“This is an evolving situation,” said Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “We do expect additional cases in the United States and globally.”
Researchers at the National Institutes of Health and the CDC are working on a test that will allow doctors to rapidly diagnose the virus in the field, said Schaffner, though Messonnier cautioned that it could take time.
They also started preliminary work on a vaccine to prevent the infection, Schaffner said. That could also take time, however. A vaccine for Ebola that was recently approved in the U.S. took several years to develop following outbreaks in Africa in the past decade.
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