The medical community raised concerns over unverified claims that the novel coronavirus was infectious during an incubation period, warning groundless rumors only magnify unnecessary fears.
As the Lunar New Year holiday ended, hospitals started to have patients demanding a screening test for the new coronavirus. Some patients who did not visit China recently or who did not have a contact with a patient confirmed with the virus infection demanded a test for the Wuhan pneumonia just because they had a fever or respiratory symptoms, physicians said.
Doctors said they have to spend extra time to explain to such patients that the patients are not subject to the novel coronavirus test.
“Because the holiday just ended, I see lots of patients. Because of those patients, our healthcare service is delayed, and the clinical scene becomes a mess. In the emergency room, there are so many patients like that,” a professor at an infectious disease department at a university hospital said.
Experts criticized the Chinese health authorities for announcing that the Wuhan pneumonia could be transmittable during an incubation period without any scientific evidence causing confusion.
As Korea has a limited number of pan-coronavirus test kits to diagnose Wuhan pneumonia, excessive fears could lead to unnecessary tests and a failure of the disease control system, they warned.
According to the medical community, the nation has about 1,000 pan-coronavirus test kits and will have additional stock on Feb. 5. Seventeen institutes of public health and environment in 17 cities and provinces conduct the test.
In the initial stage of the virus outbreak, the pan-coronavirus polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test took 24 hours to produce an outcome. Recently, however, the government also conducted a real-time PCR test to reduce the test time to three to four hours.
“The virus is a new strain, so we cannot rule out a possibility completely. Based on available data to date, however, there is no possibility that the new virus is contagious without a symptom or during a latent period,” said Kim Hong-bin, a professor at the Internal Medicine Department of Seoul National University Bundang Hospital.
A respiratory virus doesn't spread until you have symptoms. Patients may think they were infected during an incubation period. But it is also possible that they already had symptoms but didn’t know, he added.
Kim went on to say that in severe cases, such as pneumonia, the virus has a lot of infectious power. Still, in mild cases, it is difficult to spread the virus by merely walking around. The government must set priorities to respond to the infectious disease effectively, Kim emphasized.
“If their capacity is dispersed, they could miss a crucial point. There is no ground for transmission during incubation,” he said.
Eom Joong-sik, a professor at the Internal Medicine Department of Gachon University Gil Medical Center, said it was irresponsible for the Chinese health authorities to announce the new virus could be contagious in the incubation period. “The remarks seem to have a political intention. They said so to avoid the responsibility of the spread of the Wuhan pneumonia,” Eom said.
He said Korea had a limited number of test kits and that they will run out if people without symptoms start to have unnecessary tests.
“Even if there was no problem in the quarantine, people entering from China should seek voluntary isolation. If a symptom appears, the person should take the test and be isolated. Without a symptom, it is hard to know if the person has the Wuhan pneumonia only by a PCR test,” Eom added.
Government, companies speed up diagnostic kit for novel coronavirus
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) held a meeting with in-vitro diagnostics companies on Monday to encourage them to develop diagnostic agents and kits for the novel coronavirus.
“The meeting was aimed to support a faster diagnosis of the Wuhan pneumonia and to respond to the outbreak. We discussed problems that existing tests could pose in case of the domestic spread of the virus and solutions,” an official at a diagnostic company said. “KCDC said it would collaborate with the private sector to produce and supply a diagnostic kit and to purchase it.”
To deal with a local spread of the new coronavirus, KCDC reportedly encouraged companies to develop customized diagnostic kits for a quick diagnosis.
“If the virus spreads, we need a diagnostic kit targeting the novel coronavirus so that we can run a massive number of tests and have a quick result,” an official at another diagnostic firm said. The KCDC urged companies to develop real-time PCR test kits for novel coronavirus in preparation for such a scenario, the official added.
He expected that it would take at least one or two more weeks for local firms to develop a customized diagnostic kit for the new coronavirus.
However, the official said he could not pinpoint the timing of the market release, considering many variants and approval process at the KCDC.
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