Coronavirus outbreak: 'Super-spreader' speaks out after infecting 11 people with COVID-19

A UK man who officials believe infected 11 people with coronavirus has spoken out about his experience with the deadly disease.

Steve Walsh, from Hove, England, works for Servomex, an organisation which produces gas analysis equipment, and is understood to have contracted the virus - now named COVID-19 - when he visited Singapore three weeks ago for a work conference. 

Throughout his travels following the conference, Walsh is believed to have infected 11 others. He wasn't aware he had come in contact with someone with the virus until he returned to the UK.

Walsh is now being considered a super-spreader - someone who infects more people than an average person with a virus. He's quarantined at Guy's Hospital in London and says he has fully recovered.

In a statement cited by the BBC, Walsh said that after he was informed someone at the conference had the illness, he self-isolated, despite showing no symptoms. He then tested positive. 

"When the diagnosis was confirmed I was sent to an isolation unit in hospital, where I remain, and, as a precaution, my family was also asked to isolate themselves," Walsh said.

The so-called super-spreader thanked health authorities in the UK and sent his thoughts to others with the virus. 

Servomex also released a statement, saying the organisation was "pleased" Walsh had recovered and would provide support to him and his family. 

"We are working with Public Health authorities to ensure the welfare of our staff and communities and wish anyone with the virus a quick and full recovery."

The 11 cases of the virus Walsh is linked to were announced over the past week, with those infected located across three countries. 

After visiting Singapore, Walsh travelled to a ski resort near France's Mt Blanc where he stayed with relatives for four days before travelling back to the UK via Geneva, Switzerland.

On Friday (NZ time), France's health minister announced that five UK citizens who had stayed at the same ski chalet as the man had become infected. A day later, another UK patient who had been in France tested positive while a man who had been at the chalet and then travelled to Spain was confirmed infected.

An additional four people in Britain were confirmed to have the coronavirus on Monday, with authorities saying they were all "known contacts of a previously confirmed UK case, and the virus was passed on in France".

According to Dr Andrew Freedman, a specialist in infectious diseases at Cardiff University, it isn't surprising that a super-spreader has popped up. 

"It does appear that the index case has passed on the infection to an unusually large number of contacts. As such, he could be termed a super-spreader."

It's not fully understood why some people can infect more than others. Some experts believe it could be related to the super-spreader being infected with a high dose of the virus or contracting more than one pathogen.

In 2015, one person infected with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) led to 82 other people becoming ill.

There have been more than 42,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 1017 deaths. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) was first informed of cases of the virus in Wuhan, China on December 31. It was identified as a coronavirus on January 7 and can spread through human-to-human transmission. 

There is little known about it but has revived fears of the SARS outbreak in 2002-2003 which killed almost 800 people.

It's spread to many countries - including Australia, the US and the UK - from the epicentre of Wuhan.

There have been no confirmed cases in New Zealand - which has banned individuals coming to Aotearoa from China if they are not citizens or permanent residents. However, two Kiwis have been tested positive for the illness on a cruise ship docked off Japan. 

They are currently being treated in a Japanese hospital.

"Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death," the WHO says.

"Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs. Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing."

There is currently no vaccine for the sickness, which is believed to have come from a marketplace in Wuhan. The Chinese city has become a ghost town with thousands of people there contracting the disease and many dying from it.

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