Institute for Tropical Medicine prepares for possible corona outbreak in Africa
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Institute for Tropical Medicine prepares for possible corona outbreak in Africa

The number of cases in China continues to climb © Belga

The Institute for Tropical Medicine in Antwerp is making preparations for the possibility of an outbreak of the coronavirus in Africa, the institute said on its website.

The world-renowned institute sums up the situation so far regarding the outbreak of coronavirus – which it gives its proper name of 2019-nCoV or novel coronavirus for short.
“More than 20,630 people are currently infected with the virus in China. The coronavirus has spread to 23 countries in Asia, North America, the Middle East and Europe, where 159 people are infected. Until now, one infection has been detected in Belgium.”

There are at present no cases in Africa, but the institute, it says, is preparing to provide support to African countries with weak health systems.

The novel coronavirus is related to the virus that caused the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003 and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak in 2012. So far 426 people have died, all but one in China.

It remains difficult to predict how broadly this virus will spread or if it can be controlled and eliminated like SARS. The number of cases is higher than with SARS and the virus is also more widespread,” the institute warns. But there have been few cases of person-to-person transmission outside of China.

“This is largely due to the implementation of rapid control measures with active contact investigation and infection control. However, as the number of infections in China increases, so does the risk of it spreading even further. Of particular concern are countries where there is limited capacity to conduct surveillance diagnosis with follow up of contacts. This means that, once introduced, the virus could spread undetected in these countries,” said Dr Marc-Alain Widdowson, director of the institute.

The institute is monitoring the situation together with the African Centre for Disease Control and its partner countries in Africa. The institute is available to support their public health response and is considering studies to better understand the possible spread of the virus.

In the meantime, the institute’s travel clinic and its travel website Wanda have been inundated with queries from the public regarding the dangers of the virus to travellers. It also refers travellers to the website of the federal health ministry for the latest travel advisories.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times