Coronavirus: US CDC says not yet invited to assist with investigation in China

A security officer in a protective mask checks the temperature of a passenger at an expressway toll station in Xianning, Hubei province.
A security officer in a protective mask checks the temperature of a passenger at an expressway toll station in Xianning, Hubei province.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Wednesday (Feb 12) it had not yet been invited to send experts to China to assist with the investigation of the coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 1,100 people.

The United States has been waiting for approval to send its experts as part of a World Health Organisation (WHO) team, Dr Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Centre for Immunisation and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters on a conference call.

An advance WHO medical team arrived in China on Monday to help investigate the outbreak.

"CDC stands ready to send staff to the affected areas in China to work on this investigation. As soon as we are given the invitation, we are happy to do that," Messonnier said.

Outside scientists are anxious to access data to validate reports suggesting that the number of new cases of the virus in China have been dropping in the past few days, she said.

"I'm going to be optimistic that that's a sign that their aggressive efforts have been effective. But I really do think it's too soon to say that for sure, not having hands on the data ourselves," Messonnier said.

The United States is working in close collaboration with Japanese health authorities to prevent the spread of the disease on the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined off Yokohama with some 3,700 people aboard, including some American citizens.

So far, 175 people on the ship have been infected with the virus - the largest single outbreak cluster outside of China.

To aid with the global response and virus detection, the CDC has shipped coronavirus test kits and related materials to 30 countries, Messonnier said.

US states have begun validating the CDC-developed tests and in some cases have come up with inconclusive results.

Messonnier said the issue likely involves reagents, or enzymes, needed to carry out the test. Some states will be receiving new kits. In the interim, the CDC will continue to validate tests as needed to ensure their accuracy.

In addition to tests to diagnose active disease, Messonnier said the CDC is working on blood tests that can detect prior infection, which would help scientists get a better sense of the scope of the outbreak, especially among people with milder cases. Those tests should be ready in the next three or four weeks, she said.