Dr Yitardes Gebre, adviser for Family Health and Disease Management, Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) was contacted about the new virus circulating and its possible impact on this region. He said, “based on the current situation and available information, WHO encourages all member states including Trinidad and Tobago to enhance their surveillance for unexplained severe acute respiratory infections, to carefully review any unusual patterns and to notify PAHO/WHO of any new case of infection with MERS-CoV. WHO has developed a case definition to support enhanced surveillance.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has been informed by the Health Ministry in Italy of two lab-confirmed cases of MERS-CoV— a two-year-old girl and 42-year-old woman who were in close contact with a man who had visited Jordan in May and was subsequently hosptialised.
WHO has reported that since September 2012, there were 53 confirmed cases of the virus and 30 people have died.
Dr Gebre said physicians should take note of persons seeking treatment who have visited: Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). He said case reports were also presented from France, Germany, Tunisia and the United Kingdom.
“Specimens from patients’ lower respiratory tracts should be obtained for diagnosis where possible under strict infection control measures,” he said.
Commenting on what was known about the disease he said the virus belonged to a group called coronaviruses, which included Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) but the new virus was not SARS, although there were many similarities. Gebre said, “the main difference is that SARS was able to spread much more rapidly and with more sustainability.”
Many people who were infected by MERS-CoV develop severe pneumonia. Most of the people infected were older men and many of them had other medical conditions.
Gebre said WHO/PAHO expected to see more cases as surveillance is enhanced.
He said the limited number of cases globally since the first case became known in April last year indicated that there has not been sustained human to human transmission but evidence indicated that the virus can be transmitted between humans especially in health care environments or where there is an underlying medical condition.
Gebre said, “different clusters seen in multiple countries increasingly support this hypothesis, but it still has not demonstrated the ability to spread efficiently.”
Researchers are still gathering information on the disease. He reported that there is little information about the natural reservoir and source of infection, modes of transmission and actual extent of the disease.