WHO Holds Emergency Meeting Over MERS

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Health and infectious disease experts have met at the World Health Organisation (WHO) to discuss whether a deadly virus that emerged in the Middle East in 2012 now constitutes a “public health emergency of international concern”.

The virus, which causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS infections in people, has been reported in more than 500 patients in Saudi Arabia alone and spread throughout the region in sporadic cases and into Europe, Asia and the United States.

Its death rate is around 30 percent of those infected.

Tuesday’s meeting was to decide whether the recent upsurge in detected cases in Saudi Arabia, together with the wider international spread of sporadic cases, meant the disease should be classed as an international emergency.

The WHO said its assistant director general for health security, Keiji Fukuda, would hold a news conference later on Tuesday to announce the conclusions of the meeting.

MERS, which causes coughing, fever and sometimes fatal pneumonia, is a coronavirus from the same family as SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which killed around 800 people worldwide after first appearing in China in 2002.

Scientists have linked the human cases of the virus to camels, and Saudi authorities warned on Sunday that anyone working with camels or handling camel products should take extra precautions by wearing masks and gloves.

The WHO’s MERS emergency committee is the second to be set up under WHO rules that came into force in 2007, years after the 2002 SARS outbreak. The previous emergency committee was set up to respond to the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. [Reuters]

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