Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) – Lessons from the South Korea Outbreak

Editorial in International Journal of Infectious Diseases includes warning of the risks of the disease being spread globally

Oxford, UK, June 18 2015

The outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in South Korea is the subject of a fast-tracked editorial in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, written by Dr. Eskild Petersen and colleagues. The authors outline seven key lessons to be taken from this latest series of MERS-coronavirus (MERS-CoV) infections:

  1. MERS-CoV remains a major threat to global health security and could have epidemic potential in time.
  2. The nature of the virus and its evolution into a more virulent form needs close monitoring – genomic studies should be carried out for as many MERS cases as possible.
  3. Up to a million pilgrims from over 182 countries travel to Mecca, Saudi Arabia for the Ramadan period which began on June 18th, 2015, threatening the further global spread of MERS.
  4. The Ebola virus disease epidemic has overshadowed other infectious diseases in the last 18 months, showing the inability of global surveillance systems to focus on multiple infectious diseases simultaneously.
  5. Many basic questions about the epidemiology, pathogenesis and management of MERS-CoV remain to be answered.
  6. MERS-CoV surveillance systems must be enhanced and global awareness of MERS and the importance of infection control measures needs to be increased.
  7. Individuals, especially healthcare workers, that may have been exposed to MERS patients must seek medical care and self-quarantine at an early time during the disease course.

“It is critical that global efforts are focused urgently on basic science and on clinical and public health research into MERS to establish the exact mode of transmission to and between humans,” said Dr. Petersen. “In parallel, new drugs and other therapeutic interventions and vaccines need to be developed.”

The authors conclude their editorial with a warning that further spread to countries with weak health systems and laboratory facilities unable to rapidly identify an unexpected virus, may result in a widespread outbreak or an epidemic in many of the countries from which Ramadan, Hajj and Umrah pilgrims originate.

Paper details:

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome– advancing the public health and research agenda on MERS- lessons from the South Korea outbreak (open access article)

Eskild Petersen, David S Hui, Stanley Perlman, Alimuddin Zumla

International Journal of Infectious Diseases, Volume 36, July 2015

In collaboration with the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - National Center for Medical Information and Knowledge, Elsevier has offered 30 days’ free access to Elsevier’s ClinicalKey, a clinical search engine, to all its users within South Korea to help contain the MERS outbreak.

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