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Email Content: Poultry Industry News, Comments and more by Simon M. Shane

Uncertainty over Wuhan Coronavirus and Potential Impact on U.S. Exports


There are profound public health and economic implications following emergence of the Wuhan novel coronavirus designated 2019-nCoV, in Hubei Province in late December 2019. The infection has spread to a number of densely populated provinces China and to as many as 20 nations.

News reports cataloging the number of patients now exceeding 50,000 confirmed cases with 1,000 fatalities in China have taken a toll on the national economy with forecast of more than a one percent drop in GDP for 2020 even if the outbreak is controlled within weeks.

Supply chains have been disrupted by quarantines imposed at the time of the annual Lunar New Year holiday. In the face of a concurrent African swine fever outbreak, disruption in ports and transport infrastructure has impeded importation of pork and poultry from the U.S., Latin America and the E.U.

The infection is producing both expected and unpredictable economic effects now emerging. The extent of these impacts will depend on how quickly the infection can be contained in China and the scale of extension of 2019-nCoV to other nations. It is clear from initial epidemiologic investigations that air travel is responsible for outbreaks in Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong and South Korea that are at greatest and most immediate risk. Epidemiologists in Germany, the UK and Singapore are modeling the spread of infection and constantly updating figures as new data becomes available. Clearly the stated number of cases diagnosed in China is a gross underestimate due to the shortage of reagents and equipment to conduct assays for the virus. Apparently only the most severely affected patients are subjected to laboratory evaluation. Patients are hospitalized in makeshift facilities for treatment. Contacts are simply quarantined in either hospitals or in their homes. This has implications for estimating the incidence and fatality rates.

Mortality figures are relatively firmly established subject to transparency on the part of authorities in China. If the number of deaths is accepted, the fatality rate is 2.5 percent to date. If however the denominator for the fatality rate is doubled to 100,000 cases the rate drops to one percent. This is the opinion of Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, John Snow Professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, who recently returned from a series of consultation with authorities in China and is now in voluntary quarantine. The death rate from influenza in the U.S is 0.14 percent. While not minimizing the public health aspect of the Wuhan novel coronavirus it is instructive to consider influenza in the U.S. From 2010 the CDC has recorded from 9 to 45 million cases of influenza annually with between 150,000 to 810,000 hospitalizations and 12,000 to 60,000 fatalities, depending on strains of influenza circulating in a given year.

In evaluating the potential impact of an emerging infectious disease, parameters considered by epidemiologists include:

  • R0 - This figure denotes the number of cases among susceptible contacts infected by a single person infected with the virus. At this time it is considered that each confirmed case of 2019-nCoV may infect two to three contacts.

· Incubation period - This is the time between infection and appearance of symptoms. This figure is highly variable based on current data and ranges from 2 to 14 days according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

· Serial interval - This is the time between symptoms appearing in a patient and symptoms in a contact.

· R value - This is a composite figure expressing the probability of sustained transmission and is based on the proportion of the infected population actually under isolation and the infectivity of the virus.

It will be some time before a test of adequate sensitivity and specificity is developed to assess antibody response in populations. At the present time epidemiologists are basing some predictions on the SARS outbreak in 2003 caused by a different but distantly related coronavirus.

From the perspective of exports to China it is hoped that authorities can muster sufficient labor to process arriving containers of pork and chicken. Factories must recommence production to maintain supply chains. It is noted that during the SARS outbreak in 2003 China represented 5 percent of world trade. In 2020 this has increased to 14 percent indicating the potential World effect of industrial paralysis in China.

Many nations have made contingency plans for an outbreak and in the unlikely event that regional, state or national responses are required in the U.S. appropriate protocols and resources are available. Experience gained following the 2003 SARS outbreak and the 2014 Ebola scare have led to procedures to interdict infection potentially entering the nation and to respond to outbreaks with quarantines and identification and isolation of patients. In the interim, the coronavirus outbreak emphasizes the need to obtain a high level of influenza vaccine compliance and to intensify personal hygiene with frequent hand washing and following common sense precautions. We are a long way from masks given the low number of cases diagnosed, all of whom travelled from China in or tin two cases infected family members. About 400 contacts of the 13 confirmed cases have been identified and are under observation with restrictions on their movements.

This a time for calm with trust in our Federal and state public health authorities and a reliance on predetermined contingency plans

Copyright 2019 Simon M. Shane