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MERS coronavirus: no need to panic, say doctors

Afshan Yasmeen
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Risk of sustained person-to-person transmission of MERS-CoV is low

Following the detection of a suspected case of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) from among the 450 Haj piligrims who returned to the city on Sunday, 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.”

Referred as Saudi Arabia’s SARS-like virus, the MERS-CoV infection is similar to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), globally from September 2012 to date, a total of 151 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS-CoV, including 64 deaths have been reported.

NIMHANS Registrar V. Ravi, who is in charge of National Influenza Surveillance Centre, said although the symptoms of this novel infection are similar to that of Influenza A (H1N1) there is no need to panic as MERS-CoV is not as infectious as H1N1.

He said as the virus was contagious, it was advisable for people to avoid direct contact with infected persons. “The infection in the lungs only accounts for 20 per cent of respiratory epithelial cells and can be caused by inhaling a large number of viruses,” he explained. Moreover, as the incubation period of MERS-CoV is 12 days, it is likely that the infection is not detected when the pilgrims land. Regular monitoring of the patient and precautions are a must, he added. A 42-year-old woman with symptoms of MERS-CoV who returned to Bangalore was referred to the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Chest Diseases (RGICD) on Sunday.

Shashidhar Buggi, Director, RGICD, said that the patient’s throat and nasal swabs had been sent to the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune for tests. The patient was not admitted to the hospital as she only had mild cough and suffered a sore throat, he infoemed. Meanwhile, the State Health Department have finally begun screening returning pilgrims from November 6. A team of three doctors have been deputed at the Bengaluru International Airport.

Screening

Health Commissioner V. B. Patil told The Hindu that all the District Health Officers (DHOs) had been directed to deploy staff at the airports in their jurisdiction for screening.

Syed Muniyaz and Mohammed Hussain, who returned from Mecca on Monday appreciated the healthcare facilities provided by the Indian Government in that country for pilgrims.

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