As the world awaits word as to whether the World Health Organization (WHO) will declare a global emergency based on the impact of the current novel (new strain) coronavirus that is hitting hard in China, it is important to understand the big picture of global emergency risk communication. Risk communication involves getting credible “right” information to the right people at the right time. In public health, especially when there is global impact, this is especially hard as local, regional and world health officials are gathering data and evaluating risk from a much larger perspective. In all emergency management events, it is pivotal to allow those potentially impacted to be prepared but also to not cause panic when such is not warranted, or helpful.
As a global citizen, being aware of the most up-to-date, evidence-based, credible information providers is key. For this epidemiological issue (following the spread of an infectious disease), the US Centers for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov) or the World Health Organization (www.who.int) is an excellent resource for the global concern. State and local health departments are good local resources although they will generally be referring to information disseminated from the CDC or WHO. County health institutions will be important local resources if the transmission of the disease becomes more US or locally based.
A challenge to proper risk communication is our current ease of access to all sorts of information, from social media to non-peer reviewed articles to word of mouth.
It is important for all global citizens to critique the information provided by our national and world health officials and to share facts that are helpful, not further harming.
Some are surprised that WHO has waited to make a global health emergency notification. The ever-changing field of data and findings from this outbreak need to be considered as well as how much the disease is spreading outside the region of concern (China, specifically the Wuhan area). The WHO and other health agencies have been involved in the current identification, treatment, and support of those infected along with recommending policies that impacted the area might take. This includes closing borders, schools, and many other non-essential public places, limited flight travel to and from the region, airport screenings from those arriving from at-risk areas or exhibiting symptoms. These efforts have been credited with limiting the spread of the pathogen thus far.
Some of the current trending of this novel strain show it leads to fewer deaths than many other respiratory infections (i.e. MERS about 8 years ago had a 30% mortality rate while 2019-nCoV appears to be less than 4%). There appears to be a limited person to person transmission of the infection so far. Most at risk are very close contacts and healthcare workers treating those with an active infection. Also important to remember is that we are in a high activity influenza season along with the many cold viruses (which include some more common Coronavirus’) that circulate this time of year.
So get your flu shot, cover your cough, wash your hands, eat and sleep well, and stay home if you are actively sick and/or have a fever. Have a HEALTHY 2020 all!