A disease epidemic with the potential for pandemic proportions is upon us again. Unlike the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) which caught Liberia and neighboring Sierra Leone and Guinea off guide, there is a worldwide alarm on the emergence of a coronavirus in the city of Wuhan, Hubei Province, China.
The Wuhan coronavirus (2019-nCoV), aptly named after the Chinese city of its origin, is a respiratory illness that has so far caused 26 deaths and 830 cases and rising across China, according to the New York Times reporting. There has been confirmed cases of the disease in Thailand, Japan, South Korea and the United States.
The Wuhan coronavirus (2019-nCoV) belongs to the same family of diseases as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). The disease is known to circulate among animals. However, there is a high likelihood that the disease has evolved thus spreading between people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. Chinese health authorities are reporting that the virus is adapting and mutating. That is, the virus is changing itself to suit its environment/host (the infected person).
The incubation period appears to be similar to those of SARS and MERS. For now, CDC researchers suggest that infected persons appear to exhibit symptoms between 2 to 14 days. The symptoms are pneumonia-like and they include fever, coughing and shortness of breath.
Given Liberia's relationship with China and the ease with which people travel between the two countries, the virus poses a likely threat to Liberia. To mitigate the threat, Liberia must initiate the following as recommended by the CDC:
Establish, if it does not already exist, an incident management and emergency response system that will support any public health response to the outbreak of coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in Liberia.
Condition the population to revert to the same mindset and preparedness posture as was exhibited during the 2014 Ebola epidemic.
Stock up on face masks and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for medical staff in the event there is an outbreak.
Issue travel advisory to people traveling to southeast and south Asia that will include warnings such as:
- Avoid physical contact with people who may appear sick.
- Avoid contact with animals and uncooked meat.
- Wash your hands as often as you can with soap or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Cover nose and mouth when sneezing.
- Seek medical attention immediately should you get sick while in Asia.
5. Dispatch medical staff to all ports of entry to conduct screening of all travelers entering the country especially people coming from southeast and south Asia. This may be challenging since Liberia may not yet have the testing mechanisms to test for coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Nonetheless, Liberia can use the Ebola method for examining body temperature. However, the CDC has developed a real time test called Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction (rRT-PCR). While the tests are not widely available, CDC plans to make the tests available to its partners through CDC's International Reagent Resource @ https://www.internationalreagentresource.org/
New and emerging diseases are becoming deadlier in little time than imaginable. That makes it more urgent that public health authorities in Liberia are given the resources needed to fight the threat these diseases pose. I will hope the government makes available the resources necessary to guide against the potential threat of coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in Liberia.
Dr. Taiyee Quenneh
Dr. Taiyee Quenneh is an Adjunct professor of public health at Ashford University. He ca be reached at [email protected].