Although a considerable number of people from Saudi Arabia — where five more Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) deaths were reported recently — come to the city every day, the State Health Department is yet to initiate surveillance measures.
Referred as Saudi Arabia’s SARS-like virus, MERS-CoV infection is similar to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), globally from September 2012 to May 3, 2014, 489 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS-CoV, including 126 deaths, have been reported. Of these, 406 positive cases and 101 deaths were from Saudi Arabia. Following this, the WHO has issued a global alert.
Health Minister U.T. Khader on Friday admitted that the State Health and Family Welfare Department had not yet initiated precautionary measures. The Union government had not issued any advisory to the State so far, he said.
Mr. Khader said officials would write to the Union Health Ministry and seek clarification. “Without an advisory from the Centre we cannot initiate precautionary measures on our own because it entails screening of people at the airport,” he said.
Last year, a suspected case of MERS-CoV was detected from among a batch of 450 Haj pilgrims who returned to the city.
‘No need to panic’
City-based experts involved in influenza surveillance have advised people not to panic as the “risk of sustained person-to-person transmission of MERS-CoV is low.”
Shashidhar Buggi, director of Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Chest Diseases, where the last year’s suspected case was referred to, said people need not panic as MERS-CoV was not as infectious as influenza A(H1N1). The symptoms of this infection were similar to that of influenza A(H1N1), he said.
As the virus could spread from person to person only through close contact, it was advisable for people to avoid direct contact with infected persons, he said.
As the incubation period of MERS-CoV was 12 days, it was likely that the infection would not be detected when a person lands in the city. Regular monitoring of the patient and precautions were a must, he said.
The Health Minister said the department had stepped up surveillance and awareness measures as the number of influenza A(H1N1) cases were on the rise.
Till Friday, 85 positive cases and eight deaths have been reported. “We have stepped up information, education and communication measures to educate people about the symptoms. Anyone with symptoms of the disease should seek immediate medical help,” he said.