Finnish National Institute of Health and Welfare (THL) is monitoring the situation regarding the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV) that has been identified this year as the cause of pneumonia cases diagnosed in the city of Wuhan (China).
According to Chinese authorities, so far 500 cases of infection have been diagnosed and 17 people died.
In addition to Wuhan, where most infections have occurred, cases of infection have been found in 13 provinces of China, including Beijing, Guangdong and even Hong Kong and Macao areas.
Outside China, individual infections have been also confirmed in Thailand, Japan, South Korea and the United States. A possible case is also being investigated in Russia. In those cases, the people infected had spent some time in Wuhan before developing the illness.
There are no direct flights from Finland to Wuhan. However, THL says it is "possible that individual cases of the illness may be found in Finland as a result of tourism and other international travel."
"Rapid identification of potential cases is important so that effective control measures can be implemented to reduce the risk of further infections," the Health authority says.
The agency emphasizes that Finnish hospitals are well prepared for studying and treating coronavirus infections in isolation.
The patients’ symptoms include fever, coughing and shortness of breath. The symptoms have mostly been mild and the majority of the patients have recovered well. Many people with more severe symptoms also had some other underlying condition.
The virus can be transmitted from one person to another, but the level of contagiousness is not yet well understood.
According to current information, several early cases of the epidemic are linked to time spent at a Wuhan market where seafood and live animals are sold. It is possible that in that market there was a virus mutation that allows transmission between humans.
How to prevent infection
So far, no cases of Wuhan coronavirus have been diagnosed in Finland. Infections can be prevented especially with good hand hygiene. It is very important to wash hands regularly, especially after direct contact with sick people.
It is also convenient to follow some general rules of hygiene and behavior, for example to avoid close contact with people with acute respiratory infections (coughing) and with live or dead farm animals or wild animals.
THL estimates the risk of travelers becoming ill in China and Asia is low. However, travelling in the Wuhan area may lead to some risk of infection, the agency says.
Coronaviruses are a set of viruses that have been detected in both humans and animals. They usually cause a mild respiratory infection. In the past, serious cases have been caused by the SARS and MERS coronaviruses. The new coronavirus is genetically similar to the SARS.