Experts advise national health laboratory to upgrade its bio-safety level 3 facilityA team recommended by the World Health Organisation examined the laboratory.
Amid growing concerns of possible spread of new and deadly viruses including a new strain of coronavirus among the public, the National Public Health Laboratory, under the Department of Health Services, had its bio-safety level-3 laboratory examined by engineers recommended by the World Health Organization.
Experts from the National Institute of Virology in Pune, India, who were invited by the UN health agency's country office in Nepal, had inspected the laboratory recently.
"The team invited by the World Health Organization to examine the bio-safety level-3 laboratory have given us suggestions to repair, maintain and update the laboratory," Dr Runa Jha, director at the National Public Health Laboratory, told the Post. "We will follow the suggestions and work according to their directions.”
Apart from maintaining the standards of bio-safety level-1 and 2, the bio-safety level-3 laboratory must consider additional safety measures such as isolation of laboratory, sealable room for decontamination, ventilation, airflow and double-door entry, according to the WHO.
Last year, samples of the bird flu virus (influenza H5N1) that killed a 21-year-old man was contained in the bio-safety level-3 laboratory, which was later sent to the WHO collaborating centre in Japan for confirmation.
Jha said that the bio-safety level-3 laboratory could handle and examine samples of deadly viruses if the laboratory could be brought into operation.
The certification was last done in 2016.
The laboratory, set up with the financial assistance of the World Bank in 2012, was certified twice in 2014 and in 2016.
According to the international norms, certification of a bio-safety level-3 laboratory should be carried out every two years. For certification, the laboratory will have to meet all the requirements stated by the inspection team.
An official at the laboratory said that even if the maintenance and repair works were conducted, bringing the laboratory into operation was difficult due to a lack of trained human resources.
"At least four technicians, one biomedical engineer, one electrical engineer and other support staff would be required to run the laboratory. We do not have any of those,” one of the lab staff said. "Our directors have been drawing the attention of concerned officials at the health ministry about the lack of human resources."
The staff, who prefers not to be named since he is not authorised to speak to the media, said that the laboratory is physically equipped to run preliminary tests of all flu including noble coronavirus.
Meanwhile, the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division said that it has been working to send the specimen of a Nepali patient suspected of being infected with a new strain of coronavirus to the WHO collaborating centre for examination.
The 31-year-old patient, who had returned from Wuhan city in China earlier this month had visited Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital in Teku last week, with complaints of fever, sore throat and pneumonia-like symptoms. Doctors were worried that he might have contracted the new strain of coronavirus that killed at least three people and infected around 200 people in China, and kept him under observation for five days before discharging.
Dr Bishnu Gautam, an official at the division said that the WHO has sent out a circular with new diagnostic guidelines to identify the new strain of coronavirus. According to the diagnostic guideline, health workers are suggested to inquire the patients if he/she has returned from Wuhan and to check if they are suffering from influenza-like symptoms.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of September 20, 2020
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19, short for coronavirus disease, is an illness caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Common symptoms of the disease include fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
How contagious is Covid-19?
Covid-19 can spread easily from person to person, especially in enclosed spaces. The virus can travel through the air in respiratory droplets produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. As the virus can also survive on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours, any contact with such surfaces can also spread the virus. Symptoms take between two to 14 days to appear, during which time the carrier is believed to be contagious.
Where did the virus come from?
The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China in late December. The coronavirus is a large family of viruses that is responsible for everything from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). After an initial outbreak in Wuhan that spread across Hubei province, eventually infecting over 80,000 and killing more than 3,000, new infection rates in mainland China have dropped. However, the disease has since spread across the world at an alarming rate.
What is the current status of Covid-19?
The World Health Organisation has called the ongoing outbreak a “pandemic” and urged countries across the world to take precautionary measures. Covid-19 has spread to 213 countries and territories around the world and infected more than 30,683,828 people with 955,841 deaths and 22,038,587 recoveries. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 5,308,041 with 85,619 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 305,031 confirmed cases with 6,415 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 64,122 cases with 411 deaths.
How dangerous is the disease?
The mortality rate for Covid-19 is estimated to be 3.6 percent, but new studies have put the rate slightly higher at 5.7 percent. Although Covid-19 is not too dangerous to young healthy people, older individuals and those with immune-compromised systems are at greater risk of death. People with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, or those who’ve recently undergone serious medical procedures, are also at risk.
How do I keep myself safe?
The WHO advises that the most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces like your computers and phones. Avoid large crowds of people. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist for longer than a few days.
Is it time to panic?
No. The government has imposed a lockdown to limit the spread of the virus. There is no need to begin stockpiling food, cooking gas or hand sanitizers. However, it is always prudent to take sensible precautions like the ones identified above.