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Nurses will be “crucial” in easing public fears over the escalating coronavirus outbreak, an infection control expert has said.
Pat Cattini, president of the Infection Prevention Society and a leading nurse, said while it was “inevitable” that the virus would spread to the UK, it was important to maintain “perspective”.
“Nurses will play a crucial part in ensuring that people remain calm and reducing unnecessary anxiety”
Her comments come as the number of confirmed global cases of the new strain of coronavirus tops 800 with more than 25 fatalities.
The majority of the patients are in mainland China and the source has been linked to the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan.
At the time of writing, there had been no confirmed cases in the UK despite several suspected patients undergoing testing.
Ms Cattini told Nursing Times: “Any such new virus will [be] considered a concern until we learn more about it. It needs to be kept in perspective.
“Coronaviruses are very common and with rhinoviruses are the main cause of the common cold. They tend to give a mild to moderate illness, which appears to be the case for most of these new cases in China.”
Fatalities were “not unexpected” with any respiratory pathogen, especially in people who were vulnerable, old or young, added Ms Cattini.
With the extent of global travel in and out of the UK, Ms Cattini said it was “inevitable” that cases would emerge here.
However, she assured that units up and down the nation would be making “appropriate preparations”.
She said it was vital for health professionals to stay abreast of advice and guidance issued by Public Health England (PHE) as the situation evolves.
And with the topic dominating headlines worldwide, Ms Cattini said nurses had a “crucial” role to play in alleviating concerns.
She said: “Nurses will play a crucial part in ensuring that people remain calm and reducing unnecessary anxiety.
“Nurses may also be on the front line of recognising potential cases and we will need to ensure we are following the case definitions and correct PHE guidance, to maintain patient, visitor and staff safety.”
At least 16 health workers are among those who have been infected with the so-called Wuhan novel coronavirus.
Ms Cattini said as well as following advice from PHE, standard infection prevention precautions would “go a long way to reducing the spread”.
Meanwhile, the Lancet has today published “early but important” findings from some of the first clinical investigations into the virus.
Researchers said the strain appeared to cause similar symptoms to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and seemed to be capable of spreading from person to person and between cities.
The virus was “most closely related” to coronaviruses from Chinese horseshoe bats and was one of seven strains found to cause diseases of the respiratory tract in people, they added.
“We have tried and tested measures in place to respond”
They analysed the first 41 patients infected with laboratory-confirmed Wuhan novel coronavirus admitted to hospital in the city of Wuhan between 16 December last year and 2 January 2020.
On average, patients were middle-aged (median age 49), most had visited Huanan seafood market (66%), and most patients were men (73%).
Like SARS, the majority of cases affected healthy individuals, with less than a third of cases occurring in people with underlying chronic medical conditions.
People with Wuhan novel coronavirus presented with a broad range of symptoms.
All patients admitted to hospital had pneumonia and most had a fever (98%), cough (76%), and fatigue (44%).
More than half of patients also experienced shortness of breath (55%), whilst headache (8%) and diarrhoea (3%) were rare.
Approximately one in three patients developed acute respiratory distress syndrome (29%) or were admitted to intensive care (32%), and six died.
Currently, there are no specific coronavirus antiviral drugs or vaccines with proven efficacy in humans.
Earlier today, UK leaders held an emergency meeting to discuss the situation.
Following the meeting, English chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said: “We all agree that the risk to the UK public remains low, but there may well be cases in the UK at some stage.
“We have tried and tested measures in place to respond. The UK is well prepared for these types of incidents, with excellent readiness against infectious diseases.
“We have global experts monitoring the situation around the clock and have a strong track record of managing new forms of infectious disease.”
He said a “public health hub” would be set up at Heathrow airport from today consisting of clinical and other public health officials to help monitor people arriving.
The World Health Organization has determined that the situation does not yet constitute a public health emergency of international concern but will continue to monitor the situation closely.