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Posts tagged ‘MERS’

Saudi MERS infections soar ahead of hajj pilgrimage

MERS unlikely to spread in Asia

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MANILA : Asian countries should keep their guard against the deadly Middle East respiratory virus, although it is unlikely to spread to the region, a World Health Organization expert said Thursday.

The Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) appears to be less infectious than originally thought even though it has already killed 287 people, said Mark Jacobs, WHO’s director for communicable diseases in the Western Pacific.

The relatives of those infected have not been showing any signs of catching it, he added.

His comments come after the Philippines last week urged its large Muslim minority to reconsider plans to join the annual Hajj pilgrimage, which takes place in Saudi Arabia, until the threat from the virus has dissipated.

But Jacobs said the virus posed little regional threat.

“A spread in our part of the world is small,” Jacobs told reporters. “If the virus stays unchanged, then I think that what we have been seeing is what we will keep seeing.”

The WHO said 15 countries have reported MERS cases, with the virus widely circulating in the Arabian peninsula.

Outside the Middle East, both the Philippines and neighbour Malaysia have both reported cases of patients who apparently caught the virus after travelling there.

These people had not infected others in their countries, according to a WHO report.

“We haven’t seen big outbreaks in a community or anything like that to suggest that it’s easy for some in the general community to be infected, (but) obviously we are keeping a close eye on that and hope that would not be the case,” Jacobs said.

While there was always a chance of the virus spreading in health care facilities treating infected patients, “the risk to almost everyone in the world is extremely low.”

Jacobs advised Asians travelling to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj in October to take precautions, including proper hygiene and staying away from people exhibiting symptoms like coughing.

The WHO has not issued any travel or trade restrictions or entry screening related to MERS. -AFP

via MERS unlikely to spread in Asia | New Straits Times.

Shoura calls on MoH to check infectious diseases

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CONSULTATIONS: Acting Health Minister Adel Fakeih holds talks with Shoura Vice President Mohammed Al-Jifry in Riyadh on Wednesday. SPA

 

The Shoura Council on Wednesday met with acting Health Minister Adel Fakeih and other ministry officials to discuss the Kingdom’s preparedness to confront infectious diseases, such as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and the Rift Valley Fever during the peak Umrah pilgrimage season in Ramadan.
“We would like to ascertain the ministry’s ability to deal with new infectious diseases, especially during the Haj and Umrah seasons,” said a member of the Shoura’s Health Affairs Committee. MERS has so far claimed 292 lives in the Kingdom.
The Shoura members also asked the minister about the construction status of five medical cities ordered by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah at a cost of SR16 billion and the time frame for their implementation.
The committee also asked the minister about the performance of the Kingdom’s health cadre and ministry’s efforts to implement the family health care program and whether it has enough manpower to carry out the program. It advised the ministry to make use of Saudi medical graduates in different regions to improve health services across the country.
Shoura Vice President Mohammed Al-Jifry emphasized the importance of holding meetings with ministers and other government officials while discussing the annual performance of various government departments. “This will reflect on the quality of the Shoura’s decisions and recommendations,” he said.
Fakeih stressed the Health Ministry’s desire to establish continuous contact with the Shoura, especially the health committee, to benefit from their expertise in improving health services in the country. He also answered various queries from committee members on the ministry and its services.

via Shoura calls on MoH to check infectious diseases | Arab News — Saudi Arabia News, Middle East News, Opinion, Economy and more..

Saudi Arabia sacks minister criticized over handling of MERS

Man with mask speaks on his mobile phone in Jeddah
A man with mask speaks on his mobile phone in Jeddah May 29, 2014. Saudi Arabia is working with international scientific organisations to improve its response to a deadly new virus that has killed 186 people in the kingdom, its acting health minister Adel Fakieh told Reuters on Wednesday.

CREDIT: REUTERS/MOHAMED ALHWAITY

(Reuters) – Saudi Arabia has sacked Deputy Health Minister Ziad Memish who has been criticized by some international scientists over his handling of the deadly MERS virus that has infected 575 people in the kingdom and spread around the world.

Memish was a key figure in Saudi Arabia’s efforts to contain the spread of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), a virus that causes coughing, fever and sometimes fatal pneumonia.

It has killed 190 people in Saudi Arabia since it was identified two years ago and cases have been found in other countries in the Middle East, Europe, Asia and the United States. So far, much evidence points to camels as a possible source for MERS infection.

“Acting Health Minister Adel Fakieh has issued a decision today to relieve Deputy Health Minister Doctor Ziad Memish from his position,” said a statement posted on the ministry’s website in Arabic on Monday. It did not elaborate.

Memish is the second senior Saudi health official to lose his job in six weeks after Health Minister Abdullah al-Rabeeah was sacked when the rate of new infections started to rise rapidly in mid-April.

Memish was criticized by international scientists interviewed for a Reuters Special Report last month for what they saw as a reluctance to collaborate with some specialist laboratories around the world offering to help investigate the possible source of MERS and explore how it spreads.

He told Reuters then that he was “surprised” by criticism of Saudi Arabia’s response to MERS and did not respond to the allegations directly concerning his own role.

Fakieh wrote in a response to the Reuters Special Report that Saudi Arabia was working with international scientific organizations to improve its response to MERS, and pledged to continue that collaboration.

He did not comment in his response on the role played by Memish.

The Health Ministry said late on Monday that it had recorded four new confirmed cases of MERS in the previous 24 hours in Jeddah, Medina and the northern province of al-Jawf, and that one more person had died from the disease over that period.

The rate of infection has slowed since mid-May, which public health officials say may be a result of improved infection control procedures introduced in Saudi hospitals.

 

 

(Additional reporting by Kate Kelland in London; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

via Saudi Arabia sacks minister criticized over handling of MERS | Reuters.

Iran confirms first two cases of MERS

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In this photo taken Tuesday, May 13, 2014, a Muslim pilgrim on a wheel chair wears a surgical mask to prevent infection from respiratory virus known as the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)

(Reuters) – Iranian officials say they have confirmed the country’s first two cases of MERS, a deadly virus first reported two years ago in Saudi Arabia, its neighbor on the western side of the Gulf.

 

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Corona-Virus (MERS) causes coughing, fever and sometimes fatal pneumonia, killing an estimated 30 percent of those who are infected.

 

There is no vaccine or specific treatment for MERS, which has killed more than 175 people in Saudi Arabia and spread throughout the region, also reaching as far as Malaysia, Greece, Lebanon and the United States.

 

“Four suspected cases of new corona virus infection were observed in a family in the province of Kerman. Two of these cases were confirmed in two sisters,” said Mohammad Mahdi Gouya, the director-general of communicable diseases at the Iranian Health Ministry’s Centre for Diseases Control and Prevention.

 

“One of the sisters is in critical condition and the other is currently receiving treatment under special circumstances,” the ministry’s website quoted him on Monday as saying.

 

A recent upsurge of infections in Saudi Arabia is of concern because of the influx of pilgrims from around the world expected in July during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

 

Gouya also said that Tehran had dispatched trained medical teams to Saudi Arabia, where they studied MERS cases among Iranian Hajj pilgrims, according to Iran’s Press TV.

 

Arrangements were being made for Iranian pilgrims to undergo medical check-ups after they return home, he added.

 

MERS is a virus from the same family as SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which killed about 800 people worldwide after it first appeared in China in 2002.

 

 

 

(Reporting by Michelle Moghtader; Editing by William Maclean and Catherine Evans)

 

via Iran confirms first two cases of MERS | Reuters.

Foreign doctors, nurses in Saudi Arabia could take MERS global

A man wearing a mask poses with camels at a camel market in the village of al-Thamama near Riyadh
A man wearing a mask poses with camels at a camel market in the village of al-Thamama near Riyadh May 11, 2014.

 

(Reuters) – The biggest risk that Middle East Respiratory Syndrome will become a global epidemic, ironically, may lie with globe-trotting healthcare workers.

From Houston to Manila, doctors and nurses are recruited for lucrative postings in Saudi Arabia, where MERS was first identified in 2012. Because the kingdom has stepped up hiring of foreign healthcare professionals in the last few years, disease experts said, there is a good chance the MERS virus will hitch a ride on workers as they return home.

“This is how MERS might spread around the world,” said infectious disease expert Dr Amesh Adalja of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

It can take five to 14 days for someone infected with MERS to show symptoms, more than enough time for a contagious person to fly to the other side of the world without being detectable. Healthcare workers “are at extremely high risk of contracting MERS compared to the general public,” Adalja said.

The threat has attracted new attention with the confirmation of the first two MERS cases in the United States. Both are healthcare workers who fell ill shortly after leaving their work in Saudi hospitals and boarding planes bound west.

About one-third of the MERS cases treated in hospitals in the Saudi Red Sea city of Jeddah were healthcare workers, according to the World Health Organization.

Despite the risk, few of the healthcare workers now in, or planning to go to, Saudi Arabiaare having second thoughts about working there, according to nurses, doctors and recruiters interviewed by Reuters.

Michelle Tatro, 28, leaves next week for the kingdom, where she will work as an open-heart-surgery nurse. Tatro, who typically does 13-week stints at hospitals around the United States, said her family had sent her articles about MERS, but she wasn’t worried.

“I was so glad to get this job,” she told Reuters. “Travel is my number one passion.”

So far, international health authorities have not publicly expressed concern about the flow of expatriate medical workers to and from Saudi Arabia.

“There is not much public health authorities or border agents can do,” said infectious disease expert Dr Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota. “Sure, they can ask people, ‘did you work in a healthcare facility in Saudi Arabia,’ but if the answer is yes, then what?”

Healthcare workers are best placed to understand the MERS risk, Osterholm said, and “there should be a heightened awareness among them of possible MERS symptoms.”

Neither the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nor the Department of Homeland Security responded to questions about whether they were considering monitoring healthcare workers returning to the United States.

SOARING DEMAND

In the last few years, the number of expatriates working in Saudi Arabia has soared, said Suleiman Arabie, managing director of Houston, Texas-based recruiting firm SA International, with thousands now working in the kingdom.

About 15 percent of physicians working in the kingdom are American or European, and some 40 percent of nurses are Filipino or Malaysian, according to estimates by recruiters and people who have worked in hospitals there.

The majority of U.S.-trained medical staff are on one- or two-year contracts, which results in significant churn as workers rotate in and out of Saudi medical facilities.

The Saudi government is building hundreds of hospitals and offering private companies interest-free loans to help build new facilities. Its healthcare spending jumped to $27 billion last year from $8 billion in 2008. Building the hospitals is one challenge, staffing them with qualified personnel is another.

Arabie’s firm is trying to fill positions at two dozen medical facilities in Saudi Arabia for pulmonologists, a director of nursing, a chief of physiotherapy and scores more.

Doctors in lucrative, in-demand specialties such as cardiology and oncology can make $1 million for a two-year contract, recruiters said.

Nurses’ pay depends on their home country, with those from the United States and Canada earning around $60,000 a year while those from the Philippines get about $12,000, recruiters said. That typically comes with free transportation home, housing, and 10 weeks of paid vacation each year. For Americans, any income under about $100,000 earned abroad is tax-free, adding to the appeal of a Saudi posting.

One Filipina nurse, who spoke anonymously so as not to hurt her job prospects, told Reuters that she was “willing to go to Saudi Arabia because I don’t get enough pay here.” In a private hospital in Manila, she made 800 pesos (about $18) a day.

“I know the risks abroad but I’d rather take it than stay here,” she said. “I am not worried about MERS virus. I know how to take care of myself and I have the proper training.”

None of Arabie’s potential candidates “have expressed any concern” about MERS. Only one of the hundreds of professionals placed by Toronto-based medical staffing firm Helen Ziegler & Associates Inc. decided to return to the United States because of MERS, it said, and one decided not to accept a job in Jeddah she had been hired for.

Recruitment agencies in Manila have also continued to send nurses to the kingdom since the MERS outbreak, said Hans Leo Cacdac, the head of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration. The government advises that returning workers be screened for MERS, Labour and Employment Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said this week.

Expat healthcare workers now working in Saudi Arabia feel confident local authorities are taking the necessary steps to combat the spread of MERS in hospitals.

“Just today they came and put up giant posters in our hospital on MERS,” said Dr Taher Kagalwala, a pediatrician originally from Mumbai who works at Al Moweh General Hospital in a town about 120 miles from Tai’f city in western Saudi Arabia

“I have not heard of or seen any healthcare workers looking to leave their jobs or return to their countries because of the MERS panic. If it was happening, there would have been gossip very soon.”

(Reporting by Sharon Begley; additional reporting by Manuel P. Mogato in Manila and Zeba Siddiqui in Mumbai,; Editing by Michele Gershberg and Ross Colvin)

via Foreign doctors, nurses in Saudi Arabia could take MERS global | Reuters.

Mers virus found in second Heathrow transit passenger

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The risk of transmission from the passenger is very low, health officials say

 

A second case has emerged of an airline passenger who transited through Heathrow Airport and later tested positive for the lethal Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) virus.

Public Health England said the person flew in from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on 1 May and travelled on to the US.

It said the risk of transmission was “considered extremely low”.

However, it was working with Saudi Airlines to contact UK passengers who had sat near the person concerned.

Close contact

Mers belongs to the coronavirus family that includes the common cold and Sars, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, which caused about 800 deaths globally in 2003.

More than 100 people have died of Mers to date.

The virus causes symptoms including fever and kidney failure.

Man with camels in Saudi Arabia
Travellers have been advised to avoid contact with camels in the Middle East

Health officials say it is not highly contagious and appears to spread only through close contact. But there is no known cure.

Professor Nick Phin, head of respiratory diseases for Public Health England, said the risk from the latest case was “very low”.

“We will be following up with any UK passengers who were sitting in the vicinity of the passenger with Mers-CoV, as a precautionary measure,” he said.

The passenger arrived in London on flight SV113 and travelled on to Florida in the US.

Role of camels

“Any UK-based travellers who become unwell with a fever, cough or shortness of breath within 14 days of being in the Middle East should make sure they call their doctor and tell them where they have travelled,” said Prof Phin.

“Although the source of Mers-CoV is currently unknown, there is growing evidence of the possible role of camels in transmitting Mers-CoV to humans.

“We advise travellers, particularly those with underlying or chronic medical conditions, to avoid contact with camels in the Middle East.

“All travellers should practice good hand and respiratory hygiene to reduce the risk of respiratory illness.”

No cases of Mers in the UK have been detected since February 2013, Public Health England said.

The latest case was the second within a week in which a passenger passing through Heathrow was later found to be infected.

The patient in the first case, who was travelling from Saudi Arabia to Indiana in the US, now says he has recovered.

via BBC News – Mers virus found in second Heathrow transit passenger.

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