Singapore taking more precautions against Mers

Pilgrims getting an emotional farewell from family and friends at Changi Airport before leaving on her first haj pilgrimage in September 2013. Singapore is stepping up precautionary measures against the deadly Middle East respiratory syndrome although no cases have been detected here.
PHOTO: Singapore taking more precautions against Mers

SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Health (MOH) is closely monitoring the latest global developments on Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) infections, including the situation in Saudi Arabia following more confirmed cases in the country in recent weeks.

While no cases of MERS-CoV have been detected in Singapore so far, MOH said it will be enhancing Singapore's precautionary measures given today's globalised travel patterns and the possibility of an imported case.

Starting today, MOH will be distributing its Health Advisory to travellers flying to areas affected by MERS-CoV in the Middle East. Currently, MOH's Health Advisory is distributed to travellers flying in from affected areas in the Middle East.

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) will continue to work with the relevant travel agents to ensure that MOH's Health Advisory is provided to Umrah and Haj pilgrims.

Health Advisories are also in place at Singapore's border checkpoints for incoming travellers from areas affected by MERS-CoV, as well as for outgoing travellers to these affected areas.

There is currently no advisory against travel to countries of the Arabian Peninsula, or to countries reporting imported cases of MERS-CoV.

As sustained human-to-human transmission of the virus has not been reported, the risk of an outbreak in the local community remains low, MOH said.

"MOH and healthcare institutions remain vigilant to test for MERS-CoV where clinically indicated, such as in patients with serious respiratory illness and a compatible travel history. All suspected and confirmed cases will be isolated and managed under strict airborne infection control precautions," MOH said in a media release.

"If a case is detected, MOH will conduct contact tracing when appropriate, and all close contacts will be placed under quarantine. Guidance to healthcare workers on the management of any suspected cases of MERS-CoV infection has also been provided."

As of May 4, 47 suspected cases investigated locally for MERS-CoV all tested negative. Four had reported a travel history to the Middle East for business, and four for social purposes. 39 reported a travel history to the Middle East for Umrah.

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 September 22, 2012. 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.

Health Advisory

Health Advisory

To reduce the risk of exposure to MERS-CoV, Singaporeans travelling to affected areas are advised 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 camels and other live farm or wild animals, including not visiting camel farms.
  • If contact has been made, thoroughly wash hands with soap.
  • Adopt good food safety and hygiene practices and avoid consuming unpasteurised milk, undercooked meats, raw fruits and vegetables (unless they have been peeled), or unsafe water.

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.