Novel coronavirus confirmed in symptom-free travellers returning from Wuhan

Coronaviruses (colored transmission electron microscopy image).

© cdc/Dr. Fred Murphy & Sylvia Whitfield

At University Hospital Frankfurt, the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has been confirmed without doubt in certain travellers returning from China who had not presented any symptoms of respiratory disease. Consequently, the virus can potentially be transmitted by people who have not yet become aware of the infection.

In early February, experts from the Institute of Medical Virology of University Hospital Frankfurt and Frankfurt Public Health Authorities accompanied and monitored travellers, mainly of German citizenship, returning to Germany from the Chinese city of Wuhan which has been affected by the new respiratory disease COVID-19. Together with partners from the Center for Infectious Diseases at the University Hospital Frankfurt and the Institute of Virology at Marburg University, they have published their findings in the New England Journal of Medicine.

In the current publication, experts led by Dr Sebastian Hoehl and Prof. Sandra Ciesek from the Institute of Virology of University Hospital Frankfurt detail the screening process that 126 travellers returning from China underwent in early February. In order to ensure maximum safety, the experts decided to offer swab testing to all travellers to exclude infection with the virus regardless of whether the travellers presented any symptoms or not. In this procedure, two people who had not been detected by the symptom-based screening tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. The results were confirmed at Marburg University’s Institute of Virology. The two infected people were subsequently treated at the University Hospital’s Infectious Diseases Department under the supervision of DZIF Coordinator Prof. Maria Vehreschild. After one week, one person still did not present any symptoms and the other presented only very mild symptoms.

“Symptom-based screening has not been effective here,” emphasizes Prof. Sandra Ciesek, Director of the Frankfurt Institute of Virology and scientist at the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF). “The two people infected with SARS-CoV-2 were only identified thanks to the throat swabs and subsequent virus diagnostics.” Furthermore, the investigations showed that “In these cases, a throat swab was sufficient in confirming infection with the virus and did not require for samples to be obtained from deeper down in the respiratory tract as has previously been considered necessary.” This could also be an important indication of a higher risk of infection for humans.

Source: University Hospital Frankfurt press release

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