A top World Health Organisation (WHO) official has asked people in the country and region to stay properly informed on the deadly Mers virus that has claimed over 40 lives and infected 84 others, mainly in Saudi Arabia.
During a virtual Press conference held from Geneva on Wednesday night, Dr Keiji Fukuda, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Health Security and Environment spoke to Khaleej Times and gave a message for the people staying in the midst of where the virus is said to have originated and got its name the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers).
“The most basic and important message for the people who are living in the community is that they should be aware that there is a virus, particularly if you are in a country where a number of cases have been reported,” he said.
“Especially if we are dealing with a new virus and we do not have the full information available,” he said. “Being informed is the foundation for taking care of yourself and your family. This is something we would recommend,” he added.
The Press conference was held after WHO concluded an emergency committee meeting to assess the current threat posed by the virus. The committee stopped short of declaring a travel ban despite a looming threat as Saudi Arabia prepares for Haj pilgrimage.
Dr Fukuda said that MERs, at the moment, did not meet conditions for a public health emergency of international concern.
“We do not have specific information on how people are getting infected. However, we have a way for people to prevent themselves from getting infected or transmitting the infection,” he told Khaleej Times. “For example, it is important to wash your hands as hygiene turns out to be a very important way of preventing infection especially with soap and water or sanitisers. But one important thing to do is to keep your hands clean.”
He further said: “Another thing is that if you are developing symptoms such as respiratory problems and they become severe such as high fever and have trouble breathing, it is really important to seek medical care and not wait too long.”
“These are individual actions you can take that can reduce your chances of getting infected,” he added.
The committee also said that WHO should help nations boost their surveillance system and laboratory capacity and also inform the public on reducing risks for infection.
Saudi Arabia has discouraged the elderly, pregnant women and children from performing Hajj while WHO said it will release travel guidelines in a few days.
Dr Fukuda said that such move was a national matter.
Earlier this week, the UAE reported its first case of the MERS when an 82-year-old man was diagnosed with virus who is currently being treated in Abu Dhabi. Hospitals in the country have been asked to monitor patients and report immediately.
The UAE health ministry said it was also monitoring the situation but no travel bans for Haj have been announced yet.
The virus carries a 50 per cent rate of mortality in confirmed cases which is a major concern. Cough, fever and respiratory failure are primary symptoms. Secondary conditions associated with the virus include acute renal failure, multi-organ failure, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), and consumptive coagulopathy — a clotting disorder that leads to hemorrhage, organ failure and death.