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Occupational Health: Wuhan Novel Coronavirus

Posted by Lauren at 16:22 on 13 Feb 2020


What is a coronavirus? A coronavirus is a common virus seen across the world, symptoms include fever and a cough that may progress to pneumonia causing breathing difficulties. 

What is the Wuhan Novel Coronavirus? This is new strain of the coronavirus and was first identified in Wuhan City, China; it has the same symptoms as other strains but this one has spread very quickly between people in China and there have now been some cases outside of the country so has been classified as a ‘public health emergency of international concern’ by the World Health Organisation (WHO).    

Who is at risk in the UK? Based on current evidence the Wuhan virus is a mild one and those who have died had pre-existing health conditions. The more severe symptoms generally occur in people with weakened immune systems including older people (generally classified as those over the age or 65 years) and those with long term conditions like:

  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Chronic Lung Disease
  • Other illnesses with low immunity effect 

What about travellers from China? Current advice on the Government website is for those who have returned from the city of Wuhan or Hubei Province within the last 14 days to:

  • remain indoors and minimise contact with others for 14 days
  • call NHS 111 to inform them of your recent travel to the city or other infected area* 

*It is important to do this even if there are no symptoms. 

Those returning from other locations where cases have been reported should seek up to date advice from the WHO and Public Health England (PHE) websites and contact their manager for clarification on return to work arrangements.

What should I do? As with any flu-type illness if you start with symptoms i.e. fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat, along with other possible symptoms such as headache, joints aching, and feeling generally unwell, you should report this to your manager and go home. If you have any of these symptoms and develop difficulty in breathing you should ring for medical advice but not attend a GP surgery. If you need urgent medical assistance the Ambulance Service and / or Hospital A&E Department should be informed of a potential viral/flu illness so that you can be managed quickly and appropriately as isolation may be required to minimise potential spread of the virus. 

Are there any tests to determine the virus? If medically indicated, a swab can be taken from the nose and throat and respiratory samples obtained and sent to PHE who can provide a laboratory result from this specific virus on the same working day.

What should work do? Management should ensure that the area the individual was working in is thoroughly cleaned by staff using gloves, disposable wipes, and masks and yellow clinical waste bags; these can be found on all Stations and for Headquarters and the JTC will be available from Safety and Risk Management. The yellow clinical waste bags should be tied off and put in the appropriate bin immediately. If the individual is working in an area where these are not available wash the area thoroughly with hot soapy water using disposable paper towels, dispose of these in a plastic bag tie off then put this into a second plastic bag and tie this off too and dispose of immediately into an external bin. Wash hands thoroughly in all cases after cleaning.  

What else can be done to minimise the spread of the illness if there are any cases where I work? The main prevention is hand washing with soap in hot water for at least 20 seconds or use alcohol gel and wash as soon as possible, especially after coughing or sneezing on the hands. Used tissues should be binned immediately after use and hands washed/gel used. For those working at a desk alcohol wipes should be used at the beginning and end of the day, including keyboards, telephones and desk tops. Where possible, use own cups/glasses/cutlery and wash thoroughly in hot soapy water between use.   

Further areas of advice: If you are unsure if you may have the virus and would like some advice Occupational Health can be contacted but the best precaution is if unsure go home and contact your GP surgery or NHS 111 if further advice is needed. 

How do I treat the symptoms? As you would with any flu, keep warm, rest, take plenty of fluids and self-medicate with paracetamol or flu treatments as per your personal preference until symptoms resolve.  A Pharmacist can help with advice for medication, remember to be careful taking flu remedies if you are taking paracetamol and ibuprofen for other conditions.  

How long should I stay off work? Current guidance is to remain off work a minimum of 14 days from onset of symptoms and a further 2 days after the symptoms have gone and you feel well again. Further advice can be obtained from your Pharmacist, GP or Occupational Health.  

Gov. UK: Coronavirus: latest information and advice
Public Health England