Manitoba health-care professionals told to watch out for coronavirus

The province of Manitoba is warning health-care providers to look out for people who have recently travelled to Wuhan, China, and are now experiencing a fever and respiratory illness.

Risk of contracting deadly illness low for Manitobans, province says

Travellers try to protect themselves from the coronavirus at the Beijing railway station, as they leave for China’s Lunar New Year holiday on Thursday. Manitobans are told the risk is low, but health-care providers are warned to be aware of their patients' travel history and symptoms. (Saša Petricic/CBC)

The province of Manitoba is warning health-care providers to look out for people who have recently travelled to Wuhan, China, and are now experiencing a fever and respiratory illness.

The warning comes as the world works to deal with an outbreak of a newly detected coronavirus that has killed 17 people in China. Health officials have determined the outbreak started in Wuhan.

As of last Friday, suspected and confirmed cases of the new coronavirus must be reported to chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba Health said.

"We've already begun planning for this, so we're prepared for a suspected case and have contingencies in place to deal with it," Roussin said at a press conference Thursday.

"The big goal is to reduce and eliminate any secondary spread of this virus should a case be detected."

While the risk to Manitobans is low, Roussin says, clinicians are still being asked to be aware of the travel history and symptoms of their patients.

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief provincial public health officer, says the risk to Manitobans from the coronavirus is low, but clinicians are being asked to be aware of their patients' travel history and symptoms. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

That includes people who have a fever and acute respiratory illness, with or without pneumonia, coupled with travel to Wuhan within 14 days before the onset of their symptoms, or who have had close contact with a sick person associated with the outbreak in Wuhan.

On Dec. 31, a number of cases of pneumonia were reported in the city of Wuhan. The cause was confirmed as a new coronavirus — a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. The Wuhan coronavirus had not previously been identified in humans, Health Canada says.

The province says anyone who fits the criteria will be put in a separate room and tested. That sample will be looked at in provincial labs and then sent to the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg.

"It's imperative that, should we see a suspected case, that we take all precautions with it. So you're going to see worldwide that many more people will be tested for this than we find cases, and that's a good thing because we don't want to miss a case," Roussin said.

This map shows the spread of the coronavirus that has killed 17 people. (CBC)

The United States announced Tuesday it confirmed its first case of the coronavirus.

Canada's public health agency says the risk to Canadians visiting Wuhan is low, but updated its travel advisory, warning Canadians to take precautions such as avoiding large crowds.

No confirmed cases have been identified in Canada, but that will most likely change, a Manitoba expert said.

Canada will 'undoubtedly' see cases

Jason Kindrachuk, an assistant professor of viral pathogenesis in the department of medical microbiology at the University of Manitoba, says Canada will "undoubtedly" see cases of coronavirus.

But the good news, he said, is that so far, the spread of the virus has been "somewhat limited."

"That for us is a massive bonus right now, because at the very least we know the spread is somewhat able to be controlled through basic quarantine procedures," Kindrachuk told CBC News.

"We're watching things develop moment to moment."

A patient is transferred by an ambulance in Hong Kong on Wednesday. Hong Kong reported its first two cases of Wuhan coronavirus infections as the number of those who have died from the virus in China climbed to 17 on Wednesday. Cases have been reported in the United States,Thailand, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, but there have been no confirmed cases so far in Canada. (Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

Kindrachuk advises people who are worried about coronavirus to consult reputable organizations like the World Health Organization, Health Canada and Manitoba Health, rather than turning to social media to read rumours.

Although the illness is novel and has claimed lives, he said, more common illnesses like influenza can be dangerous too.

"Yes, this is something new.  Yes, this is something we're concerned about. But to be quite frank, we do see other respiratory illnesses that we do need to be concerned about annually," he said, adding the flu kills as many as 500,000 people worldwide every year.

"Our primary target should be to get people vaccinated."

With files from Stephanie Hogan and Sam Samson


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