An alarming new medical study on the coronavirus has an expert warning that the virus could be “impossible to contain”.
On Friday, medical journal JAMA found that 41 per cent of the first 138 patients diagnosed at a Wuhan hospital were presumed to be infected.
The spread appears to have occurred within the hospital itself, in various departments of the facility, with both health care workers and patients at high risk.
Dr Tom Frieden, former director of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, said this was “big news” and warned the virus was “quite infectious”.
“The virus might well be impossible to contain — just as the common cold and influenza can’t be stopped, but the health and societal impacts can be blunted,” he wrote for CNN. “China’s extraordinary efforts to stop the spread of the virus, even if unsuccessful, may slow its spread and improve China and the world’s ability to limit the harm the virus causes.”
He said it’s “likely” that sustained transmission will begin to occur in other countries, and that it’s “unlikely” those transmissions will be containable.
According to the JAMA study, one patient who was admitted to the surgical department was presumed to have infected 10 health care workers.
Seventeen patients who were hospitalised for other reasons also became infected by the coronavirus.
A total of 138 patients got the virus in a period spanning January 1 to January 28, with hospital-associated transmission accounting for 41 per cent of all cases.
The study comes just hours after a Chinese doctor who was punished for raising the alarm about the coronavirus died from the pathogen – sparking an outpouring of grief and anger over a worsening crisis that has now killed more than 630 people.
Li Wenliang, 34, sent out a message about the new coronavirus to colleagues on December 30 in Wuhan but was later among a group of people summoned by police for “rumour-mongering”.
He later contracted the disease while treating a patient.
Of the 40 infected health care workers in the JAMA study, 31 worked on general wards, seven in the emergency department, and two in the ICU.
The example of the patient presumed to have infected 10 health workers highlighted the high level of danger within hospitals during the first phase of the epidemic, even though overall it is currently estimated that each patient infects on average 2.2 others.
“If true, then this confirms that some patients are likely to be far more infectious than others, and this poses further difficulties in managing their cases,” Michael Head, a global health expert at the University of Southampton said in a comment to the UK’s Science Media Centre.
Medical staff at the epicentre of the virus are also overstretched and lack sufficient protective gear, the deputy governor of Hubei province admitted on Thursday.
The death toll from coronavirus has hit 908, making it more deadly than the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic.
China’s National Health has confirmed 3062 new infections and 97 new deaths — a new daily record.
The infection rate has escalated sharply since the beginning of the year, with only 547 cases confirmed on January 22. By February 1 there were 14,300 cases.
There are now a total of 40,553 cases of the coronavirus worldwide, including 15 infections in Australia. The death toll worldwide is now at 910.
Of those infections, 6500 are severe, according to official data.
— with AFP