ID Outbreak Tracker

WHO: MERS transmission cause of concern

WHO has expressed concern over the increase in human cases of infection with Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, coronavirus in the past few weeks, particularly in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

According to WHO, two significant outbreaks have occurred in health facilities, where numerous cases of human-to-human transmission, especially among health care workers, have been reported.

Ala Alwan, MD 

Ala Alwan

“Approximately 75% of the recently reported cases are secondary cases, meaning that they are considered to have acquired the infection from another case through human-to-human transmission,” Ala Alwan, MD, WHO regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean, said in a press release. “The majority of these secondary cases have been infected within the health care setting and are mainly health care workers, although several patients are also considered to have been infected with [MERS] while in hospital for other reasons.”

In particular, WHO is concerned about the lack of information from Saudi health officials about the mode of transmission and source of the infection, as well as details about the two health care facility outbreaks. The health organization has proposed to partner with both Saudi and UAE officials to investigate the recent spike in cases.

Since September 2012, WHO has reported 254 cases of MERS infection and 93 deaths. Besides the Middle East, cases have been reported across Europe, North Africa and Asia. Several recent cases, including one documented in Greece last week, have been imported from Saudi Arabia or UAE. WHO is urging health officials to heighten surveillance of the disease and report any signs of sustained human-to-human transmission.