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Up to 24 people in Finland possibly exposed to coronavirus

Health officials say that contracting the disease from persons showing no symptoms of infection is unlikely.

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Image: Danil Roudenko / AOP

The number of people possibly exposed to Wuhan coronavirus has risen to 24 from a previous estimate of 15, according to Lapland hospital district infectious diseases specialist Markku Broas.

The Lapland hospital district said on Thursday that while the majority of persons potentially exposed to the disease are foreigners, some Finns are among the group. According to Broas, one of the persons exposed to infection has already left Finland for Asia. Officials in the destination country in question have been informed about the situation, he added.

Health officials were expected to decide on possible quarantining of the exposed persons on Thursday. Current guidelines are to only isolate patients exhibiting symptoms.

"We are considering the possibility of quarantine for people possibly exposed. That would mean preparing a private space where they can be monitored to see if symptoms emerge. This will be decided during the course of the day," Broas told Yle’s Aamu-tv breakfast programme.

Difficult to reach affected persons

Officials were able to contact some of the affected persons on Wednesday when Finland’s first coronavirus case was confirmed in Lapland. The task of identifying persons who may have been exposed has been complicated by the fact that most of them are travellers.

"A significant number have been travel-related contacts, such as [winter] safaris. If the reservation was only made with a first name or a nickname, then it can be challenging to find the person," Broas explained.

The specialist said that possible exposure to the virus could result from being in the same space with an infected person for more than 15 minutes. He pointed out that outdoor activities such as winter safaris reduce the risk of infection.

"It is believed that short-term contact will not lead to infection. There’s also reason to remember that this kind of disease is not very easily contracted," Broas noted.

He told Yle that some of the possibly infected persons had spent several hours with the sick patient and that their risk of coming down with the disease was moderate. He added that the risk to others was unlikely given their brief exposure to the virus.

How to avoid infection

Meanwhile officials from the National Institute for Health and Welfare, THL, are urging the public to practice regular hand washing and to cover mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing.

According to THL it is important to wash hands with soap sufficiently often and to use an alcohol-based hand disinfectant if needed.

The agency recommends using face masks for staff working at health care facilities as well as people coming into close contact with patients infected with coronavirus, for example, living with them.

The public health watchdog said that based on current information, contracting the disease from persons showing no symptoms of infection is unlikely.

The Finnish Foreign Ministry is recommending people to avoid unnecessary travel to Hubei province, where the main city of Wuhan is at the centre of the outbreak. The THL said that if persons arriving from the area where the coronavirus outbreak began do not have symptoms such as fever, cough and breathing distress, there is no reason to adopt any measures.

Cough and fever danger signs

Patients infected with the Wuhan strain of coronavirus have presented with fever, a cough, difficulty breathing and fatigue. So far the symptoms have for the most part been mild, according to THL. However persons with other long-term diseases may experience more severe symptoms.

Individuals who develop a high fever along with other symptoms such as a cough or breathing difficulty within 14 days of leaving the outbreak area or who have been in close contact with an infected person, should contact the emergency department of their local hospital or health centre, according to THL guidelines.

Depending on the severity of their symptoms, patients will either be treated at home or hospitalised if necessary. Currently there is no medicine available to treat the new strain of coronavirus, nor is there a vaccine to prevent infection.

More information about the virus can be found at the THL website.

No risk from parcel mail

Meanwhile officials from national mail carrier Posti said there is no risk of infection from parcels inbound from China, as the virus will not survive the journey.

Posti added that it is therefore safe to open packages from China as the virus is only able to survive on an inanimate object for a few hours. Parcels containing food can also be safely delivered and opened, the postal agency said.

"THL does not see any risk in receiving shipments," said Sami Finne, Posti’s head of international online services.

He added that when it comes to food, it is important to heat it.

"Everything should be cooked if it is animal-based," Finne added.

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