EASTERN ONTARIO — Local health officials say they are prepared if cases of the Novel Coronavirus turn up here, although the risk to Eastern Ontario residents and across Canada is still “considered low.”
So far, there have been no identified Canadian cases of the pneumonia-like illness, which recently emerged in China’s Wuhan region. The Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU) says it is collaborating with regional, provincial and national health authorities “to monitor the evolving situation.”
“To be cautious, we are continuing to monitor the situation in China and internationally. Although the risk to our region is considered low at this point, we are prepared to respond to any potential cases in our area should they occur,” says Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, Medical Officer of Health at the Eastern Ontario Health Unit, in a press release issued last night.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, causing ailments from the common cold to more severe illnesses like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV).
There is now evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus in China, and the EOHU says the extent and severity of illness is still not fully known. However, Chinese President Xi Jinping was reported yesterday as describing the outbreak as a “grave situation” for his country.
Media reports today suggest the number of cases has reached 1,400 with 42 deaths, mostly in China, where 56 million people are in lockdown in 14 cities as authorities attempt to halt the spread.
Professor Neil Ferguson of London’s Imperial College in the UK is widely reported to have compared the new virus’s fatality rate to the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, at around one in 50.
According to the EOHU, only persons who become ill within 14 days of having visited Wuhan, China — or have been in close contact with someone who has a respiratory illness who has been to Wuhan within 14 days prior to their illness onset — are considered at risk of infection.
Common symptoms of infection include fever, cough and respiratory symptoms such as shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.
Anyone who has recently travelled to China, says the EOHU, should monitor themselves for respiratory symptoms for 14 days following their return to Canada. Travellers who become ill during or soon after their travels to China should seek medical care. However, they should notify their healthcare provider of their symptoms and their travel history prior to visiting the medical clinic or hospital.
To help prevent or limit potential spread of the sickness in Canada, the federal government has implemented health screening at airports, in addition to its standard measures to prevent the introduction into and spread of communicable diseases in Canada. The Ontario Ministry of Health has also added the 2019 Novel Coronavirus as a designated disease reportable under Ontario’s public health legislation. Physicians, hospitals and other healthcare facilities are now required to report any suspected or confirmed case to their local public health unit.
“We are required to report a suspected or confirmed case of the new coronavirus to our local medical officer of health,” confirmed Winchester District Memorial Hospital spokesperson Jane Adams, adding the hospital will “practice stringent isolation and infection control practices” on individuals presenting symptoms who have travelled to China within the previous 14-day period.
“We are monitoring the situation and will provide updates via media release, website and Facebook.”