- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said Sunday clinicians are calling "all day and all night" to report concerns of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). "That's what we want," Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters in a phone briefing. "We want people to have a high index of suspicion and to call if they have a patient they're concerned about."
- Messonnier said the CDC is also rapidly working to get laboratory diagnostics available to state and local health departments and is in the process of growing the virus for further study.
- Former FDA head Scott Gottlieb wrote in an op-ed published Monday that "to adopt more widespread surveillance and diagnosis, we may need a diagnostic that’s more readily accessible to providers on the front line of response. This includes tests that can be used right in the doctor’s office, clinics, and hospitals – or even at ports of entry."
Five cases of the virus have now been confirmed in the United States, including people in Arizona, California, Illinois and Washington. All of them had direct travel to Wuhan, China, where the outbreak began. CDC officials said they expect to see more cases in the U.S.
Messonnier said Sunday the immediate health risk to the general public from 2019-nCoV "is low at this time, but the threat is serious and our public health response is aggressive." More than 100 patients from 26 states are under investigation currently, according to the CDC.
The American Hospital Association told its members in an advisory to "be vigilant and follow CDC's interim guidance" including screening steps and informing public health authorities when evaluating patients with fever and acute respiratory illness.
Several groups are working on treatments and vaccines but it is not clear whether any will be available to help with this outbreak, she said. The CDC has published the entire genetic sequence of the first U.S. patient to help with those efforts.
Messonnier said the CDC is rapidly working to get laboratory diagnostics available to state and local health departments and is in the process of growing the virus for further study.
The World Health Organization late last week decided not to declare a global health emergency. The disease has killed at least 80 people in China, according to The New York Times.
The new threat also comes as flu cases continue to ramp up in the U.S., straining providers in hard-hit areas. The number of jurisdictions with high flu activity increased from 34 to 37 last week, according to the CDC.
Messonnier said providers should be on the lookout for people with travel history to Wuhan and to anyone caring for such a patient, "Please take care of yourself and follow recommended infection control procedures."
Epic rolled out an update to its standard travel screening questionnaire last week to remind front-line staff to ask patients about recent international travel. The company said it is also reaching out individually to organizations to make sure their EHR workflow follows CDC guidelines.
Depending on the spread of the outbreak, U.S. hospitals could be put to the test. A 2018 report from the HHS Office of Inspector General found hospital administrators admitted they were not prepared for the 2014 Ebola outbreak and remained concerned about "sustaining preparedness over time."
OIG did find, however, that hospitals had improved their emergency plans, trained staff, purchased additional supplies and conducted drills focused on emerging infectious diseases. About 14% of hospitals leaders told the agency they are not prepared for an emerging infectious disease threat.