May 21, 2013 (CIDRAP News) – A World Health Organization (WHO) expert has expressed concern that guest workers in the Middle East could carry the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) to India and the Philippines, according to a media report, while a few more details emerged about three Tunisian cases reported yesterday.
Anthony Mounts, MD, the WHO's technical lead for MERS-CoV, said guest workers could bring the virus to their home countries, where it might spread widely before being detected, according to a report in the Toronto Star.
Meanwhile, another WHO official, Gregory Hartl, revealed today that because of "sample issues," the fatal MERS-CoV case reported yesterday in a 66-year-old Tunisian man was not confirmed, only suspected. He said cases in the man's two children were confirmed; press reports said those patients have recovered.
The cases reported yesterday are Tunisia's first. The older man, a diabetic, fell ill after returning from a trip to Saudi Arabia and Qatar. A Tunisia Live story today said he died May 10 but that his daughter and son recovered quickly with treatment. Other reports referred to the man's children as two sons.
Hartl said via Twitter that the global count of confirmed MERS-CoV cases stands at 43, with 21 deaths. He also commented that the Tunisian cases resemble the pattern seen earlier in the United Kingdom and France: an imported case, followed by limited human-to-human transmission.
Mounts, in the Star interview, called the virus's spread from the Middle East to other countries a "real concern."
"There are a lot of workers from the Indian subcontinent and the Philippines working in the Middle East—people are also going back to some of these areas where there may not be the same facilities for picking up cases," he said. "So my concern is that there may be travelers who are taking this back to Karachi or to Delhi or to Mumbai or Manila who are not being detected and you could have local transmission in those settings and it wouldn't be discovered until it's spread quite far."