Hospitals here on alert for cases of Middle East respiratory virus, says Health Ministry

A Saudi medical staff and a security guard stand at the closed gate of the emergency department as exit and entry is banned at the city's King Fahd Hospital, on April 9, 2014 in Jeddah.
PHOTO: Hospitals here on alert for cases of Middle East respiratory virus, says Health Ministry

Hospitals in Singapore are on the alert for any cases of the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (Mers) following Malaysia's first confirmed victim of this infectious disease.

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Here is the statement from the Ministry of Health:

Maintain vigilance against MERS-CoV

The Ministry of Health Malaysia has reported its first imported human case of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV). This case had travelled to Saudi Arabia on Umrah pilgrimage. The Ministry of Health (MOH) Singapore is closely monitoring this latest development and is in close contact with our counterparts.

No cases of MERS-CoV have been detected in Singapore thus far. Nonetheless, given today's globalised travel patterns, the possibility of an imported case here cannot be ruled out. Our hospitals remain vigilant to test for MERS-CoV where clinically indicated, such as in patients with serious respiratory illness and a compatible travel history.The risk of an outbreak in the community here is low as sustained human-to-human transmission of the virus has not been reported. All suspected and confirmed cases will be isolated and managed under strict airborne infection control precautions. If a case is detected, MOH will conduct contact tracing when appropriate, and all close contacts will be placed under quarantine.

Health advisories are in place at our border checkpoints for incoming travellers from areas affected by MERS-CoV, as well as for outgoing travellers to these affected areas. The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) will also work with the relevant travel agents to ensure that MOH's Health Advisory is provided to Umrah and Haj pilgrims. There is currently no advisory against travel to countries of the Arabian Peninsula, or to countries reporting imported cases of MERS-CoV (including Malaysia).

Health Advisory

To reduce the risk of exposure to MERS-CoV, we would like to advise Singaporeans travelling to affected areas to maintain vigilance and adopt the following health precautions when overseas:

· Observe good personal hygiene at all times;

· Practise frequent hand washing (e.g. before handling food or eating, after going to toilet, or when hands are soiled);

· Avoid close contact with persons suffering from acute respiratory infections (e.g. someone who is coughing);

· Avoid contact with animals. If contact has been made, thoroughly wash hands with soap.

MOH would also like to advise frequent travellers to the Middle East and Umrah/Haj pilgrims to:

· Be vaccinated against influenza and meningitis. Persons aged 65 years and above or with chronic medical conditions should also get vaccinated against pneumococcal infections.

· Pilgrims with pre-existing chronic medical conditions (e.g. diabetes, chronic heart and lung conditions) should consult a doctor before travelling to assess whether making the pilgrimage is medically advisable.

Individuals should wear a surgical mask and seek medical attention promptly if they become unwell with fever and cough while travelling in or if they had recent travel history (within 2 weeks) to any areas reporting human cases of MERS-CoV. They should inform the doctor of the areas that they have travelled to.


In 2014 as of 15 Apr, a total of 33 suspected cases investigated locally for MERS-CoV had all tested negative. They reported a travel history to the Middle East for business (3 cases) or social (3) purposes, as well as for Umrah (27).

MERS-CoV is a novel coronavirus which causes acute respiratory illness in infected patients. The virus was first reported by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on 22 September 2012, and thus far all cases worldwide remained associated with the Arabian Peninsula.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which are known to cause illness in humans and animals. Human coronaviruses usually cause mild respiratory illnesses like the common cold, with the exception of the MERS-CoV and the SARS coronavirus which can cause severe illness.