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Severe Respiratory Disease associated with a Novel Infectious Agent

Severe Respiratory Disease associated with a Novel Infectious Agent

21 January 2020

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Causative agent

“Severe Respiratory Disease associated with a Novel Infectious Agent” refers to the cluster of viral pneumonia cases occurring in Wuhan, Hubei Province, since December 2019. According to investigation by the Mainland health authorities, respiratory pathogens including influenza viruses, avian influenza viruses, adenovirus, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus have been ruled out.

The relevant Mainland laboratory has detected a novel coronavirus and obtained the whole genome sequence of the virus. The Mainland's expert group revealed that molecular testing of some cases were positive for the novel coronavirus, and the virus was also isolated from a sample of a case. Under electron microscopy, the virus showed the typical appearance of coronavirus. Further testing of samples is ongoing to assist in confirmation of the pathogen.

Clinical features

According to information provided by the Mainland health authorities, symptoms of the cases include fever, malaise, dry cough and shortness of breath. Some cases were in serious condition. People of older age or having underlying disease are at a higher risk of deterioration into serious condition.

Mode of transmission and incubation period

The mode of transmission and incubation period remain unknown. According to the risk assessment of the World Health Organization (WHO), the reported link of this cluster of pneumonia to a wholesale fish and live animal market could indicate an exposure link to animals. According to WHO, there is evidence of limited human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus while there is currently no clear evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission.


There is no information on the treatment of this disease at this stage.


There is no vaccine for this infectious disease at the moment.

Health advice

To prevent pneumonia and respiratory tract infection, members of the public should always maintain good personal and environmental hygiene. They are advised to:

  • Perform hand hygiene frequently, especially before touching the mouth, nose or eyes; after touching public installations such as handrails or door knobs; or when hands are contaminated by respiratory secretions after coughing or sneezing;
  • Maintain drainage pipes properly and regularly (about once a week) pour about half a liter of water into each drain outlet (U-traps) to ensure environmental hygiene;
  • Wash hands with liquid soap and water, and rub for at least 20 seconds. Then rinse with water and dry with a disposable paper towel. If hand washing facilities are not available, or when hands are not visibly soiled, performing hand hygiene with 70 to 80% alcohol-based handrub is an effective alternative;
  • Cover your mouth and nose with tissue paper when sneezing or coughing. Dispose of soiled tissues into a lidded rubbish bin, then wash hands thoroughly; and
  • When having respiratory symptoms, wear a surgical mask, refrain from work or attending class at school, avoid going to crowded places and seek medical advice promptly.

Travel advice

The public should take heed of the health advice below when travelling outside Hong Kong:

  • Avoid close contact with persons with fever or respiratory symptoms in countries/areas with possible transmission of novel coronavirus infection. If it is unavoidable to come into contact with them, put on a surgical mask and continue to do so until 14 days after returning to Hong Kong;
  • Avoid visiting hospitals. If it is necessary to visit a hospital, put on a surgical mask and observe strict personal and hand hygiene;
  • Avoid touching animals (including game), poultry/birds or their droppings;
  • Avoid visiting wet markets, live poultry markets or farms;
  • Avoid making close contact with patients, especially those with symptoms of acute respiratory infections;
  • Do not consume game meat and do not patronise food premises where game meat is served;
  • Adhere to food safety and hygiene rules such as avoiding consuming raw or undercooked animal products, including milk, eggs and meat, or foods which may be contaminated by animal secretions, excretions (such as urine) or contaminated products, unless they have been properly cooked, washed or peeled;
  • If feeling unwell when outside Hong Kong, especially if having a fever or cough, wear a surgical mask, inform the hotel staff or tour escort and seek medical advice at once; and
  • After returning to Hong Kong, consult a doctor promptly if having a fever or other symptoms, take the initiative to inform the doctor of any recent travel history and any exposure to animals, and wear a surgical mask to help prevent spread of the disease.