The Coronavirus – current developments

0

As Chinese officials broadened their definition of confirmed cases, over 60,000 cases of infected patients are now confirmed while 1,357 deaths are reported – most of which in mainland China. Meanwhile 29 countries are affected.[1] (Date February 13th)

Origin

The disease – that was recently named COVID-19 – is only part of a larger pattern of viruses that circulate between animals and keep jumping over humans from time to time. This has already happened with HIV, SARS and Ebola. The exact origins of the new virus remain uncertain: It was initially suggested that there would be a relation to bats – however, new sources suggest, that the illegal pangolin trade may be implicated as well. Whether this is true or not, it is vital to find its exact origins to understand prevent new outbreaks in the future – as animal markets pose a higher exposure to infections.[2]

Role of EMS

Currently, in most countries the potential risk of infection – including EMS practitioners – is low.  Nevertheless, as first line practitioners, especially EMS agencies that service airports have already been contacted by the local responsible authorities. Many of which have initiated protocols and policies to address concerns regarding appropriate procedures for EMS clinicians to follow. In light of recent events, specific EMS management and transport considerations are being undertaken – some of which include: Wearing surgical masks and placing them on the patient. Obtaining a detailed travel history to affected countries within the past 14 days. Using caution with aerosol generating procedures and proper cleaning and disinfecting of transport facilities – many of these measures are already standard for general transport procedures.[3]

As side of this, EMS leaders have understood, that they are positioned in a unique front-line role, which gives them an opportunity to engage with the media and the public. They are able to use their credibility and familiarity about the topic to inform the public about the virus and how to avoid infections. Basically, they function as care personal outside of hospitals and therefore are capable to understand the issue from a different angle. Many of them have a lot of data and knowledge about disease spread, infections and on how to avoid contagion, they also know who the people are that are generally more likely to be affected. For that matter, they can inform the public on symptoms, spread patterns, or when rescue services should and shouldn’t be called. This gives the EMS a central role in the debate, which should not be neglected.[4]

Measures undertaken

Even tough the outbreak of the virus has been recent; a lot of development has gone underway to detect and cure the disease. In the United States, new test-kits were already produced to detect possible infections. While the kits were meant to enable states to conduct safe testing on their own, so far, they have proven to be flawed and are not a viable alternative to manual checking procedures on everyone who has travelled to China recently for symptoms (like cough and fever).[5]

Aside from treating patients, scientists are still striving to develop ways of fighting this previously unknown threat. This includes the testing new drug treatments of patients, sophisticated computer modelling to track and predict the transmission, and the engineering of an effective vaccine. Since this is not the first “coronavirus” (the deadly “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome” [SARS] and “Middle East Respiratory Syndrome” [MERS] are part of the same family), the procedures that need to be undertaken are known, but challenging. [6]

The World Health Organization (WHO) now wants to accelerate the search for a vaccine and effective drugs against the new lung disease. The first vaccine tests on humans could begin in three to four months. However, a certified vaccine for widespread use will probably not be available for 18 months.[7]

[1] CBS News (2020): Coronavirus cases top 60,000 as death toll spikes. URL at https://www.cbsnews.com/live-updates/coronavirus-death-toll-infections-outbreak-evacuations-cruise-ship-latest-updates-2020-02-12/

[2] Vox (2020): “This is not the bat’s fault”: A disease expert explains where the coronavirus likely comes from.  URL at https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2020/2/12/21133560/coronavirus-china-bats-pangolin-zoonotic-disease

[3] Jems (2020): Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Update. URL at https://www.jems.com/2020/01/27/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-update/

[4] EMS1.com (2020): Why EMS leaders need to discuss the Wuhan coronavirus with the public, media. URL at https://www.ems1.com/public-health/articles/why-ems-leaders-need-to-discuss-the-wuhan-coronavirus-with-the-public-media-cVLnubrkcwtYOQhb/

[5] The New York Times (2020): Coronavirus Test Kits Sent to States Are Flawed, C.D.C. Says. URL at https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/12/health/coronavirus-test-kits-cdc.html

[6] BBC (2020): The global fight against coronavirus. URL at https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200210-coronavirus-finding-a-cure-to-fight-the-symptoms

[7] Neue Züricher Zeitung (2020): Vietnam stellt Kommune unter Quarantäne, Zahlen von Toten und Infizierten steigen in Hubei nach Änderung der Diagnose-Kriterien stark an – die neusten Entwicklungen zum neuartigen Coronavirus. URL at: https://www.nzz.ch/wissenschaft/coronavirus-in-china-die-neusten-entwicklungen-nzz-ld.1534367#subtitle-was-unternimmt-china-um-eine-weitere-ausbreitung-des-virus-zu-verhindern-second