South Korea doing 'all the right things' to contain MERS

  • 15/06/2015

Medical experts are sceptical an outbreak of the deadly MERS virus in South Korea will pose a threat to New Zealand, even if it reaches our shores.

Yesterday the Ministry of Health in New Zealand issued an update on the situation in South Korea. Sixteen people have died of MERS, (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronoavirus, or MERS-CoV), in the last month. More than 5200 people have been placed under quarantine.

It began when a 68-year-old man returned from the Middle East, infecting others he came into contact with in hospital.

Dr Stewart Jessamine, the Ministry of Health's acting director of public health, said there was no history of MERS spreading beyond hospital walls, out in the community.

"We are well-prepared in terms of the detection, testing and management of MERS. To date there have been no cases of MERS detected in New Zealand."

Dr Siouxsie Wiles of the University of Auckland's Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences says the South Korean authorities are doing "all the right things" to contain the outbreak.

"They are quickly identifying people who may have come into contact with someone with MERS and monitoring them either at home or in hospital. They are also proactively screening healthcare workers to see if they have contracted the disease," she says.

Virologist Dr Sue Huang, director of the World Health Organization National (WHO) Influenza Centre at Institute of Environmental Science and Research, says the Korean strain of MERS doesn't appear to be as deadly as others, but it's still early days.

"Approximately 36 percent of reported patients with MERS-CoV have died. As of June15, 2015, the South Korea outbreak showed roughly 10 percent of mortality rate," she says.

"The South Korea situation is probably a rapidly evolving situation and the rate may change as more information is becoming available… It is very important for the global community, including New Zealand, to increase the level of surveillance and preparedness for this virus."

Authorities in New Zealand have not put any travel restrictions in place, in line with recommendations from WHO.

"With cases in South Korea and the Middle East, it is always a possibility that someone with MERS could arrive in New Zealand," says Dr Wiles.

"Our health system can easily deal with diseases like this, but it's really important that people tell their doctor if they have recently returned from overseas."

It's believed MERS began life in bats, infected camels sometime in the late 20th century, and jumped from camels to humans in the early 2010s – but just how is yet to be understood.

The outbreak in South Korea is the largest outside of Saudi Arabia, where it was first reported case happened in 2012.

Anyone who becomes unwell after traveling overseas should call Healthline on 0800 611 116 or phone their GP or hospital prior to visiting, and make sure to mention where they have been travelling.

Further information on MERS is available on health.govt.nz and advice for travellers is available on safetravel.govt.nz.

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source: newshub archive