MERS cases here ‘very likely’
TORONTO—Countries should be on the lookout for cases of MERS in people returning from Middle Eastern countries affected by the virus, the World Health Organization said yesterday in an updated risk assessment of the new coronavirus.
The number of known infections has skyrocketed in recent days, with Saudi Arabia alone reporting 48 cases on Wednesday and Thursday.
In the past two weeks alone, cases were exported to Greece, Malaysia, Jordan, and the Philippines, the global health agency said.
It warned the virus may pop up in various parts of the globe carried by people who have been to countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
“It is very likely that cases will continue to be exported to other countries, through tourists, travellers, guest workers, or pilgrims, who might have acquired the infection following an exposure to the animal or environmental source, or to other cases, in a hospital for instance,” the risk assessment said.
The WHO noted that diagnosing cases rapidly may be a challenge because some have mild or atypical symptoms.
The man detected in Greece, for instance, did not initially appear to have a respiratory infection.
He had a protracted fever and diarrhea, but doctors were suspicious because he had travelled to Greece from Saudi Arabia.
The man developed pneumonia while in hospital.
The risk assessment suggested that given the potential to initially miss MERS cases, health-care workers should apply infection control precautions consistently with all patients, all the time, regardless of their diagnosis.
The document added the WHO continues to recommend against border screening as a method of trying to detect incoming cases.
As well, it recommends that governments not apply travel or trade restrictions against countries that are sources of MERS infections.
A senior official of the Public Health Agency of Canada said federal authorities are in regular communications with provincial and territorial counterparts about the situation, and the possibility of imported cases of MERS or avian influenza in travellers.
Dr. Theresa Tam said since last September, more than 3,000 people have been screened in Canada but to date no cases of MERS have been found.
“The bottom line is that we’ve been ramped up for quite some time, not just on this bug but to deal with any emerging viruses,” stressed Tam, who is the head of the Public Health Agency’s health security infrastructure branch.
“Like Greece or France or Italy, it’s possible to get a traveller for sure≤” she noted.
“And so the system is designed to try to pick that up.”
France, Italy, Germany, and Britain also have diagnosed MERS cases in people who travelled to the Middle East or flew from there to Europe for treatment.
Those importations happened in 2012 and 2013.