Novel Coronavirus Update

Since the SA Health Public Health Information issued on 10 January, the number of confirmed cases of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) infection has increased to 198 (at 21 January 2020). This is likely to be an underestimate. The majority of cases have been reported from Wuhan, China but some cases have been reported from Guangdong Province and Beijing. Additionally, cases, all with travel to Wuhan, have been reported in South Korea (n=1), Japan (n=1) and Thailand (n=2). There are unconfirmed reports of cases occurring in healthcare workers. There is some evidence of limited human to human transmission. 

Fever has been the single consistent symptom, with other symptoms including difficulty breathing, non-specific upper respiratory tract infection symptoms (cough and sore throat), and chest x-rays showing bilateral infiltrations. The incubation period is currently unknown but suspected to be 4-14 days with average of 7 days. 

Medical practitioners are advised to:

  • Be alert for patients of any age who have travelled to Wuhan, China, within two weeks of onset of illness AND who present with fever and respiratory symptoms – noting that most returning travellers will have more common viral or bacterial respiratory infections.
  • Consider 2019-nCoV in patients with:
    1. Fever AND symptoms of lower respiratory illness (e.g. cough, dyspnoea) AND
      • in the 14 days prior to symptom onset, history of travel to Wuhan OR
      • close contact with a person under investigation for 2019-nCoV while that person was ill.
    2. Fever OR symptoms of lower respiratory illness (e.g. cough, dyspnoea) AND in the 14 days prior to illness onset close contact with a laboratory confirmed 2019-nCoV patient.

Management of suspected 2019-nCoV patients:

  • Use contact and airborne precautions in addition to standard precautions.
    • Put surgical mask on patient and ask to observe respiratory (cough) etiquette.
    • Social distancing i.e. move patient from general waiting area, where possible. Use a single room, if available.
    • Staff examining patient to wear gloves, disposable gown, a fit-tested P2/N95 respirator mask (if available, if not available then wear a surgical mask) and eye protection.
    • Hand hygiene with alcohol hand rub, or if hands visibly soiled, soap and water.
    • Avoid aerosol generating procedures, if possible.
  • Wearing appropriate PPE take diagnostic specimens.
    • Collect combined oropharyngeal/nasopharyngeal swab in viral transport medium, or sputum or tracheal aspirate in sterile container. Double bag the specimen in a biohazard bag.
    • Request respiratory panel testing (which includes influenza) and 2019-nCoV.
    • Do not refer patients to pathology collection centres.
  • Call the Communicable Disease Control Branch (CDCB) medical officer on 1300 232 272 (24/7) who can provide further information regarding risk assessment. 

For further information see the Australian Government Department of Health website at

or World Health Organization website at    

Dr Louise Flood – Director, Communicable Disease Control Branch

For all enquiries please contact the CDCB on 1300 232 272

For public health alerts see:

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