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MERS-CoV: vigil against influenza-like illnesses

C. Maya
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No lab-confirmed case has been detected

The potential threat of the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) infections surfacing in the State has had the Health Department issue directives for a stricter surveillance of respiratory and influenza-like illnesses. But the critical gaps in the understanding of the infection have gravely affected the level of preparedness to manage possible MERS cases.

The Union Health Ministry is yet to issue guidelines on surveillance, testing, or management of the infection.

Till date, no lab-confirmed case of MERS has been reported in the country. But with a significant chunk of its expatriates working in hospitals in Saudi Arabia (KSA), where almost all recent cases were health care-associated, the hazard perception in Kerala has gone up.

Secondary infections

The World Health Office (WHO) says 75 per cent of the cases in the KSA have been secondary infections (infection through contact), especially in hospitals. Unlike during SARS, human-to-human transmission is limited.

WHO’s advice to nations, especially those with a large number of people returning from the Middle East, has been to strengthen surveillance, along with enhanced control measures in health care settings.

The Health Ministry had earlier asked clinicians to consider the possibility of MERS-CoV in persons with respiratory illness requiring hospitalisation and who had an appropriate travel history.

Directive to DMOs

Health officials say DMOs have been directed to enhance surveillance for severe acute respiratory infections, to check out any unusual patterns, or clustering of respiratory or pneumonia cases.

“The department should convey information to health workers and doctors. It is also time we encouraged the testing of all ventilated patients with acute respiratory illness for MERS. But the recommendation for testing should be strictly based on the treating doctor’s recommendation and implemented through a single official channel,” a public health expert said.


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