MERS coronavirus threatens expats and pilgrims in Saudi

Published:  1 May at 6 PM
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UK health experts are warning business travellers, expats and Haj or Umrah pilgrims to take seriously the threat of infection with the often fatal MERS coronavirus.

Over 100 of those infected in Saudi Arabia have already died, and the virus has spread via air travel to a number of European countries including the UK and Italy as well as to Malaysia. The World Health Organisation is warning expats working in the kingdom as well as pilgrims and other visitors, stressing the need for preventative measures as well as an understanding of the symptoms and the need for immediate medical treatment.

A cough, shortness of breath, fever and acute respiratory symptoms are all indications of infection, and the risk of death is higher in elderly people and those in already poor health. Malaysia has introduced screening for all passengers arriving at Kuala Lumpur’s international airport in an attempt to control the disease.

Saudu Arabia’s health minister has been sacked, with his replacement assuring that total transparency about the development of the disease has been put in place. Already, four doctors at one of Jeddah’s main hospitals have resigned due to fear of infection whilst treating MERS victims.

Health professionals are struggling to come to grips with the origins and behaviour of the virus, with results of a recent study indicating that it’s been endemic in the kingdom’s large camel population for at least 20 years. More deadly than the related SARS virus but less easily transmitted, MERS is believed to have jumped from animal to human infection and is now evolving.
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