News / Health

WHO: Deadly MERS Virus Very Serious, but Not Emergency

Muslim pilgrims wears surgical masks to help prevent infection from a respiratory virus known as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, May 13, 2014.
Muslim pilgrims wears surgical masks to help prevent infection from a respiratory virus known as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, May 13, 2014.
Lisa Schlein
The World Health Organization says the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus is of serious concern, but falls short of being a public health emergency.   

The virus, which causes coughing, fever and sometimes fatal pneumonia, has been reported in more than 500 patients, mainly in Saudi Arabia, and has spread to neighboring countries, as well as in a few cases to Europe, Asia and the United States. It kills about 30 percent of those who are infected.

A WHO emergency committee agrees the sharp rise in the number of MERS cases since March is of serious concern. WHO Assistant Director-General Keiji Fukuda said the committee reviewed the available information, though, and decided the virus does not constitute a public health emergency.

“We see more cases, but we do not see increased evidence for person-to-person transmissibility. And so, that was the major reason for why they said we do not think this meets a public health emergency of international concern right now," said Fukuda.

Most recent cases of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus have occurred in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. A majority of those infected were in hospitals.  

A World Health Organization mission recently visited hospitals in Saudi Arabia and found care practices in many facilities were sub-standard, with overcrowding in emergency rooms. It says these factors can lead to more infections.

The committee recommends urgent prevention and control practices, and more studies to identify risk factors to help combat the spread of the disease.  

It also urges people who are going to mass gatherings, such as the Haj in Mecca be made aware of the risks and of what they can do to protect themselves from getting MERS.

Another recommendation is to support vulnerable countries. Fukuda says sub-Saharan Africa is especially vulnerable.

“We know, in many of those countries the level of surveillance is relatively low. And, these are countries for whom some of those basic capacities are lower than they are in a number of other countries. But, also these are countries in which you will have many pilgrims going to Saudi Arabia. So, there are a combination of factors there," he said.

Among the 500 confirmed MERS cases, a handful have been found in Asia, Europe and the United States. All the infections are among people who contracted the infection in the Middle East. Fukuda said there is no evidence these infections have led to sustained transmission.   
 
International fear about the new virus has grown in recent weeks with a surge in cases detected in Saudi Arabia, where 495 people have been infected - 152 of whom have died - since the virus first emerged in 2012.
 
Scores of other MERS cases have also been detected in other countries throughout the Middle East region, and there have been at least eight cases imported into seven further countries, including Malaysia, Lebanon and the United States.
 
Dutch health authorities said on Wednesday that a man returning to the Netherlands from Saudi Arabia had been admitted to hospital there with MERS.
 
Saudi Arabia, which has been at the epicenter of the MERS outbreak since the virus was first identified in September 2012, has been criticized by the WHO for failing to implement basic hygiene and infection control measures in hospitals - allowing the virus to spread in clusters of health workers.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Srebrenica Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs countermeasure at UN More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prisoni
X
Heather Murdock
July 01, 2015 8:59 PM
As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs