Health and agriculture authorities around the world – particularly in the Arabian Gulf – must work together to detect and respond to outbreaks of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS), according to officials from the World Health Organization (WHO).
MERS, which has been traced back to dromedary camels to at least 1983, was first detected in humans in Saudi Arabia in 2012.
According to WHO statistics, at least 722 MERS-related deaths have taken place over the last five years from 2,801 confirmed cases – a mortality rate of approximately 35 percent.
A gathering in Geneva last week hosted by the WHO, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) brought together 130 experts from 33 countries, organisations and research institutions to share what is known about the virus, identify priority research needs, and agreed improve cross-collaboration between animal and human health sectors and address gaps in research.
Over 80 percent of MERS cases have been reported in Saudi Arabia, where the WHO says a “significant proportion” of recent cases are believed to have been caused by direct or indirect contact with infected camels. The disease is then often spread by travelers who have been unknowingly infected.
“MERS is not only a regional threat. While the majority of human cases have been reported from the Middle-East, the outbreak in the Republic of Korea in 2015 showed MERS’ global reach and capacity to have significant public health and economic consequences,” said Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, MERS technical lead in WHO’s Health Emergencies programme.
“We are at the stage where we have to confront the challenges in our ability to detect and respond to MERS outbreaks and improve our knowledge about this virus through collaborative research.”
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