Is MERS A Global Threat? Maybe Not

MERS not an international public health emergency says WHO

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Though the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) has now infected 90 patients and has been causing worries about a global spread for months, the worldwide threat may not be all that serious.

After an Emergency Committee meeting, the World Health Organization (WHO) has decided the virus is not currently an international public health emergency.

The virus is still being monitored closely and vigilance, especially among travelers, is being recommended.

"Sneeze into a tissue to help prevent the spread of germs."

Margaret Chan, MD, Director-General of WHO, convened a meeting of the WHO Emergency Committee last week to discuss MERS and its development. This was the second such meeting held on the virus.

"It is the unanimous decision of the Committee that, with the information now available, and using a risk-assessment approach, the conditions for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) have not at present been met," WHO reported in a statement.

During a press conference, Keiji Fukuda, MD, WHO Assistant Director-General for Health Security, explained that the Emergency Committee acknowledged the serious nature of the virus and the possibility that it could spread further in the future. However, the committee did not feel that it was the time to declare MERS an international emergency. 

When asked to describe the criteria for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, Dr. Fukuda said that there is no specific checklist, but rather the decision depends an expert discussion of the threat level.

The committee did suggest that public health officials "...monitor the situation very carefully and then take steps to strengthen countries," said Dr. Fukuda.

Dr. Fukuda also reported that, though WHO is not currently recommending any travel restrictions, it is recommending travelers take caution.

"People who have certain serious medical conditions, the ones who have been getting infected with this MERS virus, for example, can seek medical counseling or guidance from their physicians about whether this is a good time for them to travel or not," explained Dr. Fukuda, who said WHO will release travel recommendations regarding MERS shortly.

The Emergency Committee decision came despite two new infections in Saudi Arabia that were reported over the weekend. According to WHO, both patients are in critical condition and have been hospitalized in intensive care units.

"Both patients have underlying medical conditions, but neither patient has had contact with known MERS-CoV confirmed cases or animals," reported WHO. 

These new cases bring the total count to 90 infections globally since September 2012, 45 of which have resulted in deaths. Saudi Arabia has experienced the bulk of these infections. 

According to WHO, another meeting will be held in September to once again assess the state of MERS and its threat to public health.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 23, 2013
Last Updated:
July 26, 2013