Mers 'unlikely to spread to Asia'

Saudi Arabia suspects a Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus that has killed hundreds of people there may have arrived in camels from the Horn of Africa, and could ban such imports until it knows more, the kingdom's chief scientist told Reuters.
PHOTO: Mers 'unlikely to spread to Asia'

MANILA - Asian countries should keep their guard against the deadly Middle East respiratory virus, although it is unlikely to spread to the region.

Mr Mark Jacobs, the World Health Organisation's director for communicable diseases in the Western Pacific, yesterday said the Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) appears to be less infectious than originally thought even though it has already killed 287 people.

The relatives of those infected have not been showing any signs of catching it, he added.

His comments come after the Philippines last week urged its large Muslim minority to reconsider plans for the annual Haj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia until the threat from the virus had dissipated.

But Mr Jacobs said the virus posed little regional threat: "A spread in our part of the world is small. If the virus stays unchanged, then I think that what we have been seeing is what we will keep seeing."

The WHO said 15 countries have reported Mers cases, with the virus widely circulating in the Arabian peninsula. Both the Philippines and Malaysia have reported cases of patients who apparently caught the virus after travelling to that region.

These people had not infected others in their countries, according to a WHO report.

While there was always a chance of the virus spreading in health-care facilities treating infected patients, "the risk to almost everyone in the world is extremely low".

Mr Jacobs advised Asians travelling to Saudi Arabia for the Haj in October to take precautions, including practising proper hygiene and staying away from people exhibiting symptoms like coughing.

The WHO has not issued any travel or trade restrictions or entry screening related to Mers.

This article was first published on July 11, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.