ABU DHABI // The threat from the Mers coronavirus is receding because of improved infection control measures in Middle East hospitals, including the UAE, United Nations health chiefs said on Tuesday.
The virus, which can cause potentially fatal respiratory illness, remains a serious threat but is not a public health emergency, the World Health Organisation’s emergency committee said.
The surge of cases in April, when more than 200 cases were reported worldwide, has declined, so the virus does not pose a risk that requires an international response, it said.
The committee noted that “significant efforts to improve infection control measures are being undertaken in the Middle East, especially in affected countries”, said the organisation’s assistant director general, Dr Keiji Fukuda.“We believe this is a major reason the number of cases has decreased.”
Dr Fukuda highlighted the work of UAE health authorities in aiding WHO experts who recently completed a mission here to assess the risk that the virus poses.
“The visit was good,” said Dr Fukuda. “The interaction between the mission and their colleagues in the UAE really pointed out some of the findings that related to the cases in the UAE.”
A team from the WHO and technical partners from the global outbreak alert and response network spent five days in the UAE at the invitation of local health chiefs.
“As in Saudi Arabia, I think there is a really strong sense of sharing information, being more open, implementing infection prevention and control measures,” said Dr Fukuda. The WHO said Mers remained a concern with an expected surge in pilgrims to Saudi Arabia for Ramadan.
The committee also noted recent investigative findings increasingly support the hypothesis that camels are an important source of exposure, said Dr Fukuda.
He said more analysis of Mers outbreaks in hospitals was needed to understand where breaches in infection prevention and control were taking place.
Dr Fukudu said investigations had found a surge of cases was because of poor infection control measures in hospitals.
“Based on this, the emergency committee really focused much of its attention on the need to monitor hospital outbreaks and where is it that hospital control measures are not working.”
For example, patients who have not yet received a diagnosis often gather and wait in crowded conditions, such as in emergency rooms, he said.
Countries should continue to strengthen efforts to implement, increase education on basic infection prevention and control measures, especially among health workers, he said.
Dr Fukuda said more Mers studies are critical to fill in the knowledge gap, especially on infection control.
“There is a still a number of questions we do not understand about this virus,” he said.
“The fact this virus still kills a significant proportion of cases is still serious.”
The committee unanimously concluded that the conditions for a public health emergency of international concern have not yet been met.
It is the sixth time the committee has convened.
The last meeting was about a month ago but at the time, the committee said it should reconvene within weeks because of a flurry of cases and a growing concern about the virus.
There have been 701 reported cases of Mers worldwide, including 249 deaths.