Common Sense Goes a Long Way in Ending an Outbreak

WASHINGTON The World Health Organization isn't yet calling the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, although some infectious disease experts are saying it could lead to one. The virus has spread to more than two dozen countries, although the vast majority of cases and deaths have been in China.

VOA asked experts experienced on disease outbreaks what they would do to stop this one.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention helped West African countries successfully end their Ebola outbreak a few years ago. At the time, the CDC was headed by Dr. Tom Frieden. He now heads a global, nonprofit organization called Resolve to Save Lives.

In a Skype interview VOA asked him how to end the coronavirus epidemic.

For each different microbe, we have a different approach, he said. For some we have vaccines. For some, there are containment measures, like for SARS or MERS, or Ebola, where we can actually stop it. And for some, like flu, we try to mitigate. We try to reduce the damage.

With Ebola, finding people who have had contact with those infected is critical. Ebola spreads through bodily fluids. Contact has to be close.

Coronaviruses are airborne, like measles, which means these viruses can spread more easily through coughing or sneezing. This makes contact tracing much more difficult. Isolation is also key.

Don't go out if you're sick, Frieden said.

But with a widespread virus that has infected more than 20,000 people, that can be a daunting task. Lauren Sauer is the director of the Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore. She spoke by Skype.

It's hard. It's definitely a really challenging public health question, she said.

The Chinese government has asked people to self-isolate if they don't need hospital care. The government has also quarantined cities, which means people who are there are not allowed to leave.

In public health, we call that social distancing, Frieden said. In other words, reducing the contact among people.

There are other things public health experts recommend repeatedly.

Wash your hands. Cover your cough, he said.

Everyone needs to wash their hands, Sauer said. Everyone needs to stay home when they're sick.

We don't have a vaccine for this one, and we probably won't for at least a year, Frieden said.

Researchers are working on a vaccine. But for this virus, the public health practices will likely end the outbreak, whether it reaches pandemic stage or not. It's what ended the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and some other epidemics as well.

Source: Voice of America