WHO asks countries to remain alert on MERS
Geneva: The WHO has asked countries to ensure better surveillance and remain on alert against any possible outbreak of the deadly MERS, amid a spike in cases in South Korea over the weekend.
"We have advocated for better surveillance and more attention to this disease even if this is not a sexy, interesting disease, it is a very serious one," Dr Peter Ben Embarek, scientist at the World Health Organization, said.
"It is really important that the global health community is alert on this, in particular, at a time when there are a lot of travellers coming in and out of the affected countries whether related to Hajj in Saudi Arabia, for instance, where you have millions moving back and forth of the country.
"All the travellers, business people out of the region are also potential source of the infection," he said.
The total number of cases in South Korea is 95 including seven deaths, the largest outbreak outside Saudi Arabia.
Ever since the disease's outbreak in September 2012, there have been 1,190 cases globally besides 444 deaths with 25 countries being affected by the deadly virus. The bulk of the cases, however, are concentrated in the Middle East.
The WHO, however, did not ask countries to take "trade or travel-related measures" for people travelling to the Middle East. Besides, it has also not called the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome outbreak as characterised by sustained human to human transmission.
The global health body stated, "In Korea, we do not have sustained transmission between humans. We still have one chain of transmission. It is not a situation we would characterise as 'sustained' because sustained also means that you have a reservoir that is sustaining further transmission."
"It is important to find ways of alerting health care workers in hospitals and clinics about this disease and its particularities. It is very important for countries outside of the affected countries that when they see this type kind of cases coming in the hospital that they always remember to ask for travel history because that could give a clue for what these non specific symptoms could mean," said Embarek.
MERS entered in Korea when a Korean man, who returned from a trip to Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, developed symptoms after one week of his arrival. It is not yet clear how he got infected.
This little-understood virus has seen more hospital outbreaks than outbreaks inside households, around 3,000 contacts are being currently followed closely, mostly by self isolation at homes and some in hospitals. This virus is probably caused by camels.