According to WHO, there is no evidence of widespread person-to-person transmission of the Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, or MERS, coronavirus. In addition, there have been fewer infections reported among health care workers in Saudi Arabia vs. the previous severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, epidemic.
“The MERS coronavirus is different from the SARS virus,” according to a press release from WHO’s East Mediterranean Regional Office. “Although the reason why fewer health care workers have been infected with MERS coronavirus is not clear, it could be that improvements in infection control that were made after the outbreak of SARS have made a significant difference.”
In a joint mission of Saudi Arabia and WHO, officials assessed the situation surrounding the MERS coronavirus that has infected 55 people and killed 31 as of June 7.
The MERS coronavirus was first documented in early 2012 in Jordan. Since then, there have been 40 cases in Saudi Arabia. The remaining cases were confirmed in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom, according to the press release. In Saudi Arabia, 75% of cases occurred in men, and most of the cases also had underlying chronic conditions.
There are three epidemiological patterns identified. First, sporadic cases occur in communities, but the source of the infection is unknown. Second, there are clusters of infections in families, where there appears to be limited person-to-person transmission. Third, there have been clusters of infections in health care facilities, specifically in France, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
WHO officials said there are large knowledge gaps about the virus, but extensive research is ongoing. There also is significant international concern about the virus because it has been shown to move around the world, especially through travelers.
“All countries in the world need to ensure that their health care workers are aware of the virus and the disease it can cause, and that when unexplained cases of pneumonia are identified, MERS coronavirus should be considered,” according to the press release.