GENEVA/BANGKOK – The World Health Organization said Monday it is keeping close watch on a new coronavirus from China after the first infection outside the country was confirmed in Thailand, and indicated it may hold an emergency meeting on the matter in the near future.
The Emergency Committee, composed of epidemiology and health experts, determines whether a disease outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern, and if so, issues recommendations to prevent its spread across borders.
The new coronavirus was first identified in late December in Wuhan, central China, following an investigation into a viral pneumonia illness that had sickened dozens, with preliminary evidence suggesting the outbreak was associated with exposure at a seafood market.
As of Sunday, 41 people have been diagnosed with the virus in Wuhan, including one who died. The last case detected was on Jan. 2.
The case reported in Thailand is that of a 61-year-old woman from Wuhan who was traveling with a tour group. Upon her arrival at Suvarnabhumi Airport in the Bangkok area on Wednesday, she was immediately hospitalized due to symptoms including a high fever and cough. Test results for the coronavirus came back positive on Sunday.
She has been treated at an isolation ward at a state health facility outside of Bangkok, and no longer has any fever or respiratory symptoms, said Thailand’s public health minister, Anutin Charnvirakul.
Eight other people with possible symptoms have also been held at the facility, he said, but none has been confirmed to have the virus.
“The possibility of cases being identified in other countries was not unexpected, and reinforces why WHO calls for ongoing active monitoring and preparedness in other countries,” the organization said. “WHO reiterates that it is essential that investigations continue in China to identify the source of this outbreak and any animal reservoirs or intermediate hosts.”
Coronaviruses usually cause common cold symptoms, infecting the nose, sinuses or upper throat, and are spread through sneezing, coughing or direct contact.
However, some types lead to more serious, sometimes deadly respiratory diseases, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome or Middle East respiratory syndrome, commonly known as SARS and MERS, respectively. These syndromes were ruled out as the cause of the outbreak in Wuhan.