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MERS 'poses grave risk'.

(Image: mers.jpg )

Governments are not doing all they should to tackle the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, a committee of health experts at the World Health Organisation claim.

The WHO's emergency committee, which meets regularly to consider the international response to the disease, said in a statement that its advice had not been completely followed and some countries were not doing their duty to report all cases to the WHO.

"Asymptomatic cases that have tested positive for the virus are not always being reported as required," the committee said. Scientific research and virological surveillance were not always shared in a timely manner," it said.

"Inadequate progress has been made, for example, in understanding how the virus is transmitted from animals to people, and between people, in a variety of settings. The committee was disappointed at the lack of information from the animal sector."

The committee said it wanted to alert public health authorities and animal and agricultural agencies to the 'significant public health risks' posed by MERS and urged them to collaborate with each other and internationally.

MERS is caused by a coronavirus from the same family as the one that triggered China's deadly 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

The WHO has been notified of 1,493 laboratory-confirmed cases, including at least 527 deaths, since September 2012. The vast majority of infections and deaths have been in Saudi Arabia, where more than 1,000 people have been infected. There have been no recorded cases in Bahrain to date.

But many other countries have been affected, including South Korea, where a two-month outbreak earlier this year infected 186 people, killed 36 and put nearly 17,000 in quarantine.

MERS is being spread by transmission from camels in Middle Eastern countries and by human-to-human transmission in hospitals when travellers take the disease abroad and then fall ill, as in the South Korean case.

The WHO's emergency committee said the virus was still spreading because there was too little awareness about the dangers, too little engagement in tackling the disease, and too little effort to prevent its spread in hospitals.

Although great efforts had been made, without more progress, 'individual countries and the global community will remain at significant risk for further outbreaks', the committee said.

It added that the current outbreak was occurring close to the Hajj pilgrimage and many pilgrims would return to countries with weak surveillance and health systems, threatening a repeat of South Korea's experience of a sudden flare-up of cases.

Study probes efficacy of formulations against virus

Mundipharma has announced the successful results of a research study to investigate the efficacy of three BETADINE povidone iodine (PVPI) formulations against the dreaded MERS virus.

MERS is an illness caused by a virus called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV), and is known to affect the respiratory system.

With approximately 1,188 MERS cases reported in 2012 by the Ministry of Health in Saudi Arabia, the potential of the virus spreading in September increases, with more than 2.8 million pilgrims expected to travel to the holy city of Mecca for the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

The South Korea outbreak which was contained in July 2015, where 186 people were infected, 36 killed and more than 16,000 quarantined, has demonstrated the need for effective preventative measures to reduce the spread of the virus.

Most MERS patients developed severe acute respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath and 3-4 out of every 10 patients reported with MERS have died.

To date, there is no specific medication or vaccination available to effectively combat it. In an effort to contain the spread of infectious diseases, the World Health Organisation (WHO) issued guidelines on maintaining good personal hygiene, highlighting regular hand-washing, as the first line of defence in disease prevention and infection control.

A recent in-vitro research study, conducted at Marburg University in Germany, on the BETADINE range of products including its skin cleanser, surgical scrub and mouthwash and gargle scientifically proves the efficacy against the MERS virus and the modified vaccinia virus type Ankara (considered to be one of the toughest enveloped viruses).

The study was conducted based on the latest EU test standard for virus testing. The three PVPI products tested in this study demonstrated virucidal activity against MERS with a rapid kill rate of more than 99.99 per cent within only 15 seconds of exposure.

Proper hand hygiene and cough etiquette coupled with PVPI antiviral efficacy will help in limiting the transmission of the virus and protect against the spread of infection among healthcare workers and the public during future MERS outbreaks.

"This study not only highlights exciting new findings about the broad spectrum virucidal efficacy of PVPI against a wide range of viruses including MERs, it also reminds us that prevention through proper hygiene is still required to protect the health of both healthcare professionals and the public in the global fight against viral diseases," said Prof Maren Eggers, head of Experimental Virology and Department of Disinfectant Testing at the Laboratory Prof. G Enders, MVZ Stuttgart.

"We must continue to be vigilant and employ all of the weapons including proven PVPI products in our arsenal to fight this unseen enemy."

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Publication:Gulf Weekly
Date:Sep 21, 2015
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