Thailand today confirmed Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS CoV) disease in a traveler from the Middle East region, the first case in the WHO South-East Asia Region, as the World Health Organization (WHO) urged countries in the region to step up vigil and review preparedness to respond to the disease.
“Strong health systems using strict infection control measures would be the key to prevent the spread of the virus and protect health-care workers and others,” says Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director of WHO South-East Asia Region.
Earlier in the week, Singh wrote to the Health Ministers of the 11 countries in WHO South-East Asia Region, to review and strengthen preparedness against MERS CoV in view of the recent spread of the disease. The regional director urged the countries to enhance surveillance for severe acute respiratory infections, focus on early diagnosis, and step up infection prevention and control procedures in healthcare facilities.
WHO has been working with countries in the Region to build their capacities and strengthen preparedness as required under the International Health Regulations (2005) to effectively detect and respond to outbreaks and other hazards. Efficient application of the available knowledge and prevention and control mechanism, would enable countries to effectively respond and mitigate the risk of spread of MERS CoV, Singh says.
MERS coronavirus disease is caused by a virus. Typical symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Pneumonia is common, but not always present. Gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhoea, have also been reported.
MERS CoV was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012, from where the majority of cases (>80%) have been reported since then. Since then 1333 cases have been reported from 26 countries.