CDC lists mysterious Wuhan virus as serious communicable disease

01/08/2020 08:00 PM
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Huanan Seafood Market. Photo courtesy of the China News Service.
Huanan Seafood Market. Photo courtesy of the China News Service.

Taipei, Jan. 8 (CNA) Taiwan has listed a mysterious respiratory disease originating in Wuhan, China, as a category 5 communicable disease, providing a legal basis for instituting mandatory reporting and quarantines for those exhibiting symptoms.

Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Deputy Director-General Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥) made the announcement at a press conference Wednesday in which he provided an update on the current status of the outbreak and the government's response.

According to Taiwan's Communicable Disease Control Act, high-risk infectious diseases may be classified in one of five categories, each with specified reporting and quarantine requirements.

In the case of category 5 diseases, which are defined as "emerging communicable diseases or syndromes," the CDC may set and adjust preventive measures based on current risk assessments.

Wednesday's announcement therefore provided the legal basis for future measures, such as mandatory reporting or forced quarantines, should they become necessary.

As of Wednesday, however, the CDC was simply urging those who have returned from travel in the Wuhan area to report and seek medical attention for any fever-like or respiratory symptoms that occur within 14 days of their return.

Other examples of category 5 communicable diseases include Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), H7N9 influenza, Ebola virus disease and yellow fever, among others.

Chuang said Wednesday that since instituting on-board screening of travelers flying back to Taiwan from Wuhan on Dec. 31, 2019, the CDC had inspected a total of 1,193 passengers on 13 arriving flights.

Of these, nine passengers had exhibited symptoms but were later cleared by medical authorities, while two passengers had required further observation, Chuang said.

In one of the cases, a passenger on an arriving flight from Wuhan was discovered to have a fever and respiratory issues, but upon examination was diagnosed with the H3N2 influenza strain, and has since returned home to recover, Chuang said.

In the second case, a passenger who had returned from Wuhan initially exhibited no symptoms, but fell ill with a fever on Jan. 6, more than two weeks after returning home.

Although that exceeded the typical incubation period for flu viruses, the patient was being quarantined in a hospital as a precaution, Chuang said.

The patient did not visit Huanan Seafood Market -- a suspected origin of the outbreak -- or come into contact with possible carriers of the virus such as birds, leading the CDC to conclude that the case is relatively low-risk, Chuang said.

Chinese health authorities have said that, as of Jan. 5, the unidentified virus has sickened 59 people since a cluster of cases were first observed in the city in December.

To date, there have been no confirmed reports of human-to-human transmission of the disease, and Chinese authorities have ruled out causes including influenza, avian influenza, adenovirus, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

The World Health Organization (WHO), meanwhile, has speculated that the disease is connected to animals, given the prevalence of cases connected to Huanan Seafood Market, where both fish and livestock are present.

(By Chen Wei-ting and Matthew Mazzetta)

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