The first case of MERS in Thailand was confirmed Thursday, June 18, and the WHO is blaming South Korea for its spread.
At an international meeting of health organisations on Wednesday, June 17, the WHO said South Korea had taken too long to deal with the epidemic. The outbreak of the virus, they said, was a “wakeup call for all countries” to prepare.
MERS, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus, is a viral respiratory disease caused by a coronavirus, which health professionals think passes from person-to-person in close contact situations, such as in the case of a medical professional caring for a patient. Since it was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012, 25 countries worldwide have reported cases of MERS, including the US.
“I think it’s fair to say that there was a lack of awareness about MERS both among health providers and also the general public in the Republic of Korea before the MERS outbreak occurred there,” said WHO Assistant Director-General for Health Security Keiji Fukuda, “so it really took everybody by surprise and this probably contributed somewhat to a delay in knowing what was going on.”
The epidemic in South Korea is currently the largest MERS outbreak that has occurred outside of the Middle East, said Fukuda.
So far, 162 people have been infected, 19 people have died and over 10,000 have been monitored after possibly coming into contact with patients since the start of the outbreak in May 2015.
According to Thailand Public Health Minister Rajata Rajatanavin, the MERS case is a 75-year-old businessman from Oman who arrived in Bangkok to get treatment for a heart condition. He and the three family members travelling with him are all currently under quarantine, and 59 others are currently being monitored for the virus.
Is the international community responding fast enough?
While there is growing concern about MERS in the international public health community, experts say it appears the problem is being handled pretty well.
“The measures to contain it, the measures to prevent infection from spreading to other countries were pretty strong and were being pursued very vigorously.” Fukuda also added that the number of new cases of MERS appeared to be going down, likely in response to these measures. Fukuda also stressed that this case should “serve as a wake-up call for countries,” and that those outbreaks can happen anywhere.
“It’s really critically important for countries to be aware of, to be prepared for the possibility of these sorts of outbreaks occurring in their country,” said Fukuda.
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