As of 19 March 2020, COVID-19 is no longer considered to be a high consequence infectious disease (HCID) in the UK. The four-nations public health HCID group made an interim recommendation in January 2020 to classify COVID-19 as an HCID. This was based on consideration of the UK HCID criteria about the virus and the disease with information available during the early stages of the outbreak. Now that more is known about COVID-19, the public health bodies in the UK have reviewed the most up to date information about COVID-19 against the UK HCID criteria.
They have determined that several features have now changed; in particular, more information is available about mortality rates (low overall), and there is now greater clinical awareness and a specific and sensitive laboratory test, the availability of which continues to increase.
The Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens (ACDP) is also of the opinion that COVID-19 should no longer be classified as an HCID. The need to have a national, coordinated response remains, but this is being met by the government’s COVID-19 response.
Cases of COVID-19 are no longer managed by HCID treatment centres only. All healthcare workers managing possible and confirmed cases should follow the updated national infection and prevention (IPC) guidance for COVID-19, which supersedes all previous IPC guidance for COVID-19. This guidance includes instructions about different personal protective equipment (PPE) ensembles that are appropriate for different clinical scenarios.
In the UK, a high consequence infectious disease (HCID) is defined according to the following criteria: acute infectious disease; typically has a high case-fatality rate; may not have effective prophylaxis or treatment; often difficult to recognise and detect rapidly; ability to spread in the community and within healthcare settings; requires an enhanced individual, population and system response to ensure it is managed effectively, efficiently and safely.
HCIDs are further divided into contact and airborne groups: contact HCIDs are usually spread by direct contact with an infected patient or infected fluids, tissues and other materials, or by indirect contact with contaminated materials and fomites; and airborne HCIDs are spread by respiratory droplets or aerosol transmission, in addition to contact routes of transmission.
HCIDs, including viral haemorrhagic fevers (VHFs), are rare in the UK. When cases do occur, they tend to be sporadic and are typically associated with recent travel to an area where the infection is known to be endemic or where an outbreak is occurring. None of the HCIDs listed above are endemic in the UK, and the known animal reservoirs are not found in the UK.
As of February 2020, 2019, the UK has experience of managing confirmed cases of Lassa fever, EVD, CCHF, MERS and monkeypox. The vast majority of these patients acquired their infections overseas, but rare incidents of secondary transmission of MERS and monkeypox have occurred in the UK.
For health professionals wishing to determine the HCID risk in any particular country, an A to Z list of countries and their respective HCID risk is available.UK government material