October 17, 2012
Without underestimating the importance of those outbreaks, it raises the possibility that novel organisms may now be identified before they become a widespread threat. That’s provided, of course, that alert health care personnel recognize what is going on, and sound the alarm:
The detection of HCoV-EMC… probably forecasts an increasingly common theme in which new pathogens are identified before they may develop the potential for efficient human-to-human transmission. From past experience, an astute clinician, public health official, or laboratory worker will recognize an unusual event and contact the appropriate health officials, who will investigate the event. Good communication between the clinic, laboratory and public heath community is important. (NEJM Anderson 2012)This is somewhat reassuring — but it also raises so many questions. What happens, on the one hand, if recognition doesn’t take place, or communication is not swift? (Recall that, though the Saudi hospital contacted the Erasmus lab quickly, most of public health did not learn of the case until 3 months had gone by.) And what happens if, on the other hand, all those communications work well enough to raise public alarm — and then nothing further happens? (Recall that, in 2009, public reaction to the generally mild presentation of pandemic H1N1 was generally that authorities were crying wolf.)
It is of course — of course — far better to have early warning of novel threats, than not. Yet as much as that brings some reassurance, it also poses new challenges in communicating the risks of novel organisms to the public. With luck, this novel coronavirus will remain a blip, and not an outbreak, and public health will be granted some time to think these issues through.
Full article: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/10/coronavirus-2/