UN health agency urges vigilance in South-East Asia after new case of MERS confirmed in Thailand

Strong health systems and strict infection control measures are key to effectively respond to infectious diseases such as MERS CoV. Photo: WHO/Guptasmith

24 January 2016 – The United Nations health agency cautioned South-East Asia States today to remain vigilant against the continuing risks of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS CoV) after Thailand confirmed the sometimes fatal disease in a traveller, its second case in seven months.

“The new case of MERS CoV is a reminder of the continued risk of importation of the disease from countries where it still persists,” Poonam Khetrapal Singh, UN World Health Organization (WHO) South-East Asia Region Director, said.

“All countries need to further enhance surveillance for severe acute respiratory infections, focus on early diagnosis, and step up infection prevention and control procedures in health-care facilities to rapidly detect any case of importation and effectively prevent its spread.”

A 71-year -old Omani, who arrived in Bangkok for treatment on 22 January and was admitted to a private hospital, tested positive for MERS and has since been transferred to the Bamrasnaradura Infectious Disease Institute. Measures are being taken to trace all those who could have been in his contact during his journey to Thailand, and within Bangkok.

This is the second MERS case in Thailand, and in the WHO South-East Asia Region. Last June another Omani traveler in Bangkok tested positive. South-East Asia countries have recently been reviewing and strengthening preparedness to respond to MERS.

WHO, which is supporting regional Health Ministries in building capacities and strengthening preparedness, has called for ensuring that strict infection control measures are in place.

MERS CoV is caused by a virus. Typical symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Pneumonia is common, but not always present. Gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea, have also been reported.

The disease was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012, from where the majority of cases have been reported. Since then more than 1,333 cases have been reported from 26 countries. In the Republic of Korea, there have been 166 cases, 24 of them fatal.


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