Emergency meeting to be held on deadly Mers virus, World Health Organisation says

The meeting comes after WHO said it would not recommend travel restrictions on Haj pilgrims despite the steady increase in Mers cases.

ABU DHABI // The World Health Organisation is to hold an emergency meeting on Tuesday on the deadly Mers virus, amid concern over the rising number of cases in several countries.

WHO’s emergency committee has already met four times to discuss coronavirus, which surfaced in mid-2012.

The meeting, to be hosted by the Geneva-based organisation, comes after WHO said it would not recommend travel restrictions on Haj pilgrims despite the steady increase in Mers cases.

Since 2012 to date there have been 473 cases in Saudi alone – 10 of which were just announced on Friday night – resulting in 126 deaths.

However, WHO said Muslims are free to journey to Saudi Arabia, which is expecting millions of arrivals from all over the world in early October for the annual pilgrimage.

WHO said on Wednesday that, globally, there have been 496 laboratory-confirmed cases of the disease but it is waiting for information from countries before it provides an updated total number of deaths.

“WHO does not advise special screening at points of entry with regard to this event nor does it currently recommend the application of any travel or trade restrictions, including for upcoming pilgrimage travel to Saudi Arabia,” said WHO.

The experts met with Ministry of Health officials in Riyadh before travelling to the two main hospitals in Jeddah, on the country’s Red Sea coast, where the majority of cases have been recorded.

The objective of the mission was to understand the public health risk and what experts refer to the “transmission chain” of the virus.

While the number of cases has increased, this does not reflect a significant change in the way the virus is being transmitted, the experts have concluded.

“The upsurge in cases can be explained by an increase, possibly seasonal, in the number of primary cases amplified by several outbreaks in hospitals due to breaches in WHO’s recommended infection prevention and control measures,” WHO continued.

“There is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission in the community and the transmission pattern overall remained unchanged.”

The experts have also recommended that Saudi authorities enforce tighter infection-prevention measures at health care facilities.

The majority of human-to-human infections have occurred in health care facilities, the report said, while a quarter of all cases have involved health care workers.

Scientists have proven that the virus has existed in camels for years and that they can pass on the virus to people through close physical contact.

However, it is still not clear what has lead to the spread of the virus in Saudi Arabia.

“Three quarters of all primary community cases have been male, the majority of whom have been over 50 years old,” said WHO.

“Secondary transmission in the community and households is much lower than in health care settings.”

Meanwhile, Lebanon has recorded its first case of Mers, the country’s Ministry of Health said yesterday.

The virus had been detected a day earlier in a man whose case was not severe and who checked into hospital but has subsequently been discharged.

The man had recently returned from a visit to several Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia.

newsdesk@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Associated Press and Agence France-Presse

Published: May 9, 2014 04:00 AM

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