Asian countries should stay vigilant against MERS: WHO

July 10, 2014

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.

Related Stories

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.

MERS unlikely to spread in Asia: WHO expert

July 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

July 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.

Recommended for you

Experimental MERS vaccine shows promise in animal studies

July 28, 2015

A two-step regimen of experimental vaccines against Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) prompted immune responses in mice and rhesus macaques, report National Institutes of Health scientists who designed the vaccines. ...

Can social isolation fuel epidemics?

July 21, 2015

Conventional wisdom has it that the more people stay within their own social groups and avoid others, the less likely it is small disease outbreaks turn into full-blown epidemics. But the conventional wisdom is wrong, according ...

Lack of knowledge on animal disease leaves humans at risk

July 20, 2015

Researchers from the University of Sydney have painted the most detailed picture to date of major infectious diseases shared between wildlife and livestock, and found a huge gap in knowledge about diseases which could spread ...

IBD genetically similar in Europeans and non-Europeans

July 20, 2015

The first genetic study of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) to include individuals from diverse populations has shown that the regions of the genome underlying the disease are consistent around the world. This study, conducted ...

0 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.