MERS declining, but WHO urges vigilance for Haj
GENEVA: A surge in cases of the deadly MERS virus has receded, but countries must maintain vigilance for the pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia, worst hit by the disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday.
“The upsurge in cases that began in April has now decreased and there is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission in communities,” it said in a statement.
However, “the situation continues to be of concern, especially given the anticipated increase in travel to Saudi Arabia related to Umrah, Ramadan and the Haj,” the UN health agency said.
The communique was issued after a teleconference of health officials from seven countries — Algeria, Iran, Jordan, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, UAE and US — where there have been cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.
The WHO said its Emergency Committee on MERS unanimously concluded that the conditions needed to declare a worldwide alert, dubbed a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern,” “have not yet been met.”
But it urged vulnerable countries, particularly in Africa, to beef up monitoring, raise public awareness and implement basic infection procedures.
David Heymann, a professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said it was vital to put in place measures to protect health workers and hospital patients from infection by someone with the MERS virus.
“Health workers are at great risk from emerging infections and can then unintentionally infect other patients and contacts including family members if hospital infection control measures are not in place or not being respected,” Heymann said in comments reported by the Science Media Center in London.