Colds and flu

Updated 18 July 2013

Ill travellers should be aware of MERS virus

Ill travellers should consult their doctor before travelling to or from Middle Eastern countries affected by the MERS coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Ill travellers should consult their doctor before deciding to travel to or from Middle Eastern countries where the new MERS coronavirus has been spreading, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Wednesday in Geneva.

At the same time, a WHO emergency committee of experts said that the new illness does not currently constitute a "public health emergency of international concern", a designation for major pandemics.

So far, new infections of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) have been occurring at a steady low rate of around 20 a month, leading to 82 known cases and at least 45 deaths since September.

"(An emergency) declaration and event have to be proportional to each other," WHO assistant director general Keiji Fukuda told reporters.

He said the WHO would issue guidance for travellers in the coming days, but would not call for cancelling trips to any countries, such as Saudi Arabia, which is bracing for the upcoming pilgrimage season to Mecca.

"People who have serious medical conditions, and the ones that have been infected with this MERS virus can seek guidance from their physician about whether this is a good time to travel or not," he said.

Saudi authorities will not issue visas to elderly and chronically ill Muslim pilgrims this year, the government there said Saturday.

The WHO does not endorse that step, as it issues only global travel warnings, not country-specific advice, Fukuda said.


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Dr Heidi van Deventer completed her MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 2004 at the University of Stellenbosch.
She has additional training in ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) and PALS (Paediatric Advanced Life Support) as well as biostatistics and epidemiology.

Dr Van Deventer is currently working as a researcher at the Desmond Tutu Tuberculosis Centre at the University of Stellenbosch.

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