MERS unlikely to spread in Asia: WHO expert

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.

The Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) appears to be less infectious than originally thought even though it has already killed 287 people, said Mark Jacobs, WHO's director for in the Western Pacific.

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.

But Jacobs said the virus posed little regional threat.

"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."

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 virus spreading in 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

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.

UN: MERS deadly but most cases are preventable

Jul 03, 2014

Infection rates for the Middle East respiratory syndrome are slowing and scientists hope to know enough in a year or so to be able to stop the dangerous coronavirus from spreading further internationally, ...

First MERS death in Algeria

Jun 11, 2014

An Algerian man in his fifties has died of the MERS virus, the first such fatality in the country, the health ministry announced Tuesday.

Recommended for you

Ebola-hit Liberia delays school reopening

6 hours ago

Liberia's education ministry said on Sunday it had postponed by two weeks the reopening of the country's schools, which were closed six months ago to limit the spread of the Ebola virus.

Ebola: timeline of a ruthless killer

16 hours ago

Here are key dates in the current Ebola epidemic, the worst ever outbreak of the haemorrhagic fever which first surfaced in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Ebola reveals shortcomings of African solidarity

Jan 31, 2015

As Africa's leaders meet in Ethiopia to discuss the Ebola crisis, expectations of firm action will be tempered by criticism over the continent's poor record in the early stages of the epidemic.

Second bird flu case confirmed in Canada

Jan 30, 2015

The husband of a Canadian who was diagnosed earlier this week with bird flu after returning from a trip to China has also tested positive for the virus, health officials said Friday.

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.