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Web alert: Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)

News & Insights 9 July 2014

Based on information provided by the Ministry of Health of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the total number of MERS-CoV cases recorded in the Kingdom since 2012 is 714.

Middle-East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is a viral respiratory illness, which was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and all cases are linked to countries of or near the Arabian Peninsula * 
Based on information provided by the Ministry of Health of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the total number of MERS-CoV cases recorded in the Kingdom since 2012 is 714. Of that total, 292 of the cases were fatalities, 43 are currently receiving treatment, while 379 patients have recovered.
The common symptoms include high temperatures, colds, body aches, sore throat, shortness of breath and cough and in more serious cases are similar symptoms to severe pneumonia and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). 

Currently there is no vaccine available to protect against MERS virus and although the source of this virus is currently unknown, it is transmitted similarly to other viruses, i.e. by person-to-person contact, such as:

  • Direct transmission through droplets expelled during coughs and sneezes.
  • Indirect transmission through touching surfaces and devices contaminated with the virus, and then touching the mouth, nose or eyes.
  • Direct contact with patients or infected animals or animal products.

According to the World Health Organization, people with diabetes, kidney failure, or chronic lung disease and people who have weakened immune systems are likely to be at high risk for severe MERS.
Suspicious ill crew members potentially indicative of MERS-CoV should be considered a patient under investigation (PUI) and should be isolated in a private cabin and should wear a mask while not in isolation in order to prevent transmission to others. Patients can only confirm their infection after diagnosis at health facilities and any crew members displaying symptoms should visit a health Centre immediately. There is currently no vaccine or specific drugs to work against MERS-CoV virus, but doctors usually provide supportive medical care to relieve the symptoms.
We suggest to our members whose ships are scheduled to call a port at the Arabian Peninsula region to contact their local agents in advance to obtain the most recent information about any reporting procedures in force. For example, the USCG Sector Houston-Galveston issued back in June 2013 a questionnaire to local shipping agents with a view of screening arriving vessels that have visited the Arabian Peninsula within their previous five port calls for any crew members displaying symptoms of the MERS-CoV virus.
The Ministry of Health of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia stresses the importance of hygiene and has issued guidelines in order to limit the expansion of the disease, such as regular hand-washing, avoiding contact with infected people etc.
For the latest information, you may access the website of the Ministry of Health of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the World Health Organisation (WHO)  and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

* Countries considered in the Arabian Peninsula and neighboring include: Bahrain,; Iraq; Iran; Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza; Jordan; Kuwait; Lebanon; Oman; Qatar, Saudi Arabia; Syria; the United Arab Emirates (UAE); and Yemen.

Countries with Lab-confirmed MERS cases are Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Yemen, Qatar, Oman, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon and Iran.
Countries with travel-associated cases: United Kingdom (UK), France, Tunisia, Italy, Malaysia, Philippines, Greece, Egypt, United States of America (USA), Netherlands and Algeria.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)​

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