Rather mysterious virus that has infected dozens of people in China has sent an alarm across Asia and beyond. At least two persons have already succumbed to this disease in China. The virus is said to have originated in central city of Wuhan in Hebei province. Chinese scientists have identified the illness as a new strain of coronavirus, which belongs to the same family as the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). Symptoms include fever and coughing to kidney failure. If not treated on time, it could lead to death. The SARS-like disease is said to have spread to as far as Japan and Thailand. Here is a reason to be alarmed because SARS had infected more than 8,000 people and killed 774 in 2002 and 2003. At the moment, 41 cases of the new coronavirus have been reported in Wuhan. The authorities in China are taking all-out measures to contain the outbreak but so far the health authorities in Nepal do not seem to have taken any effective measures, just in case this virus somehow enters Nepal via people travelling to China from Nepal or vice-versa.
Needless to say, we in Nepal need to stay alert for several reasons. For one, the virus that spread to Japan and Thailand could as well spread to this land. China is the country with which Nepal has had regular interactions. Hundreds of Nepalis travel to Chinese cities and just as many people travel to Nepal from China on a daily basis. For the spread of the SARS-like virus, however, if only one person infected with it enters Nepal, or the infection is not detected or treated, it could be enough. Nepal has, reportedly spotted such a case already. A Nepali national, who recently returned from Wuhan city of China was under observation at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Control Hospital, Teku after he was quarantined with a mystery strain of coronavirus, according to the recent report of The Kathmandu Post. Good news is that the patient in question consulted the hospital where he was provided treatment. But how many travelers take the symptoms seriously and consult the hospitals?
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned about the risk of possible transmission of this disease. But we do not have a dedicated health facility to screen the suspected passengers infected with such diseases. This is the reason the health authorities in Nepal need to spring into action immediately. We need to keep the health desk at TIA up and running and we need to start screening people travelling to Nepal from or via China or from the destinations where the outbreak of this disease has been reported. Likewise, our health facilities should be furnished with equipment, labs and human resources required to test the disease and prevent its further transmission. As things stand, out health facilities are often unprepared to handle such kind of situation. They have to be prepared. Our failure to isolate suspected patients of this disease and provide them timely treatment could cost us dearly as the country is marking the Visit Nepal 2020 this year during which a large number of tourists are expected from countries including China, Japan and others. The Ministry of Health should immediately issue notice in the name of the general public suggesting them ways to take precaution against the infection. When it comes to infectious diseases, as the cliché goes, prevention is the key.