Asian countries should stay vigilant against MERS: WHO

Asian countries should keep their guard against the deadly Middle East respiratory virus, although in its current form it appears less infectious than originally thought, a World Health Organization expert said Thursday.

The Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) has already killed 287 people, said Mark Jacobs, WHO's director for communicable diseases in the Western Pacific.

However the relatives of those infected have not been showing any signs of catching it, he added.

His comments come after the Philippines last week urged its large Muslim minority to reconsider plans to join the annual Hajj pilgrimage, which takes place in Saudi Arabia, until the threat from the virus has dissipated.

"A spread in our part of the world is small," Jacobs told reporters. "If the virus stays unchanged, then I think that what we have been seeing is what we will keep seeing."

Later Thursday, the WHO emphasised in a statement that the risk to Asian remained small only if the virus remained in its current form.

"Given that it is still not known how MERS spreads to people, WHO cannot predict how the virus will spread," the statement read. "Therefore, it is important that health authorities stay vigilant."

"Our understanding of the virus and the disease it causes is continuing to evolve," the statement continued, calling on all countries to "continue their surveillance for acute respiratory infections".

The WHO said 15 countries have reported MERS cases, with the virus widely circulating in the Arabian peninsula.

Outside the Middle East, both the Philippines and neighbour Malaysia have both reported cases of patients who apparently caught the virus after travelling there.

These people had not infected others in their countries, according to a WHO report.

"We haven't seen big outbreaks in a community or anything like that to suggest that it's easy for some in the general community to be infected, (but) obviously we are keeping a close eye on that and hope that would not be the case," Jacobs said.

While there was always a chance of the spreading in health care facilities treating infected patients, "the risk to almost everyone in the world is extremely low".

Jacobs advised Asians travelling to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj in October to take precautions, including proper hygiene and staying away from people exhibiting symptoms like coughing.

The WHO has not issued any travel or trade restrictions or entry screening related to MERS.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

MERS unlikely to spread in Asia: WHO expert

Jul 10, 2014

Asian countries should keep their guard against the deadly Middle East respiratory virus, although it is unlikely to spread to the region, a World Health Organization expert said Thursday.

WHO: Basic hygiene can help prevent MERS spread

Jul 10, 2014

A World Health Organization official on Thursday urged millions of Muslims making the pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, to exercise basic hygiene as mass gatherings pose risks of spreading the Middle East respiratory syndrome.

Filipino Muslims urged to delay hajj due to MERS

Jul 03, 2014

Philippine health authorities urged Muslim Filipinos Thursday to postpone their annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia due to worries about an often deadly respiratory virus.

First MERS infections detected in Algeria

May 31, 2014

Algeria reported its first two cases of the deadly MERS virus on Saturday, both among pilgrims returning from Saudi Arabia, where most cases and deaths from the disease have been reported.

Recommended for you

US looking past Ebola to prepare for next outbreak

9 hours ago

The next Ebola or the next SARS. Maybe even the next HIV. Even before the Ebola epidemic in West Africa is brought under control, U.S. public health officials are girding for the next health disaster.

Can robots help stop the Ebola outbreak?

18 hours ago

The US military has enlisted a new germ-killing weapon in the fight against Ebola—a four-wheeled robot that can disinfect a room in minutes with pulses of ultraviolet light.

New bird flu case in Germany

18 hours ago

A worrying new strain of bird flu has been observed for the first time in a wild bird in northern Germany, the agriculture ministry said Saturday.

Mali announces new Ebola case

Nov 22, 2014

Mali announced Saturday a new case of Ebola in a man who is fighting for his life in an intensive care unit in the capital Bamako.

Plague outbreak kills 40 in Madagascar: WHO

Nov 22, 2014

An outbreak of plague has killed 40 people in Madagascar, the World Health Organization said, warning that the disease could spread rapidly in the country's densely populated capital Antananarivo.

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.