If you’ve been following the news, you’re probably aware of the MERS outbreak in South Korea. Nearly four weeks into the outbreak, cases and deaths continue to increase. With the total of reported cases rising to 150 and the death toll to 16, the outbreak has sparked international concern, stalling thousands of tourist visits to South Korea. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia confirmed five cases of MERS the past week. Which brings us to the question: Is Australia prepared for a MERS outbreak?
The Department of Health has recently issued a health bulletin on MERS to answer some of Australia’s most pressing questions on MERS.
What is MERS?
MERS, also known as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, is a viral respiratory disease caused by a coronavirus (MERS-CoV). That disease is fairly new to humans, with the first case identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Health authorities are still uncertain to the cause of MERS, but it most likely came from an animal source. The MERS coronavirus has been found in camels in several countries. It is highly probable that some individuals became infected after contact with infected camels.
What are the symptoms of MERS?
The most common symptoms of a MERS-CoV infection are:
– shortness of breath
Some people experience gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. Many people who have died from a MERS infection suffered from severe complications. Complications of MERS include pneumonia and kidney failure. Approximately three to four out of every 10 individuals reported with MERS have died.
How does one catch the MERS virus?
Currently, the precise ways by which the virus spreads are not well understood. However, it is believed to spread from an infected individual’s respiratory secretions. Luckily, MERS is not as contagious as the dreaded SARS. Transmission of MERS requires very close contact with an infected individual.
Advice to Travelers
Individuals who are travelling to areas affected by outbreaks of MERS are advised to follow the following measures to lessen exposure to the MERS coronavirus:
- Always practice good hand and food hygiene.
- If you are around someone who is unwell, wash your hands regularly and avoid touching your face.
- If you don’t have access to soap and water, use a hand sanitiser.
- Avoid contact with camels and their secretions, e.g., saliva, particularly if you are at increased risk of severe disease.
- Avoid drinking raw camel milk.
Should you develop a severe, acute respiratory illness while travelling or within two weeks after your return, you should:
- Immediately seek medical attention.
- Inform your doctor of your recent travel.
- Wash hands regularly.
- Practice respiratory hygiene, e.g., cover your mouth while coughing.
- Keep your contact with others to a minimum.
What is Australia doing to avoid an outbreak of MERS?
The Office of Health Protection is currently reviewing the country’s preparedness for MERS. They have considered reinstating the provision of MERS-CoV information at the border. The IHR Emergency Committee on MERS-CoV has already met seven times, with the results of the meetings posted on World Heath Organization’s website. Information on MERS can also be accessed from the Department of Health’s website.
Is Australia ready for a MERS outbreak?
To date, there have been no reported cases of MERS in Australia. Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley stated that Australia is prepared for an outbreak of MER in the country.
“We are absolutely determined that this latest outbreak does not affect Australia, but if it does, then we are prepared. We’ve been here before, I remember the outbreaks that occurred 15 years ago and our strong response then was noted by other countries,” asserted Minister Ley.