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DFAT issues warning on disease that kills 40% of victims

April 28, 2014 Destination Global, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has issued a new warning to travellers after a jump in cases of a new deadly disease that kills about 40% of its victims.

Saudi Arabia said on Friday it had discovered 14 more cases of the potentially deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV), bringing the total number to 313.

A statement by the Saudi health ministry on Friday said new cases had been reported in the capital Riyadh, the coastal city of Jeddah, and the “holy capital” Mecca within the space of 24 hours. Five more deaths due to the virus had also been reported.

Saudi Arabia will host pilgrims from around the world in July during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a fact that gives authorities cause for concern. So far, 92 people have died of MERS-CoV in Saudi Arabia, the ministry said on its website.

MERS-CoV emerged in the Middle East in 2012 and is from the same family as the SARS virus, which killed around 800 people worldwide after emerging in China in 2002.

The source of MERS-CoV is unknown but, mysteriously, dromedary camels are  considered to play some sort of role.

DFAT warned on Friday that MERS-CoV can cause “a rapid onset of severe respiratory illness with a fatality rate of around 40%”.

“There is no vaccine for MERS-CoV,” DFAT advised . “Symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.”

DFAT says cases of MERS-CoV have been reported in several Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

“Other countries outside the Middle East have also reported imported cases from returned travellers. All cases have either lived in or travelled to the Middle East, or had close contact with travellers returning from these areas. There have been no cases in Australia to date.”

The following advice from DFAT may be worth passing on to clients visiting the Middle East:

What are the symptoms and who is at risk?

Symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. Some patients have reported a variety of other symptoms, including muscle pain, diarrhoea, vomiting and nausea. Some patients have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic. Severe cases have most frequently occurred in people with underlying conditions that may have made them more susceptible to infection (including diabetes, kidney disease, hypertension, asthma and lung diseases, cancer, cardiovascular disease).

Reducing the risk of exposure

At this time, the source of infection for sporadic cases remains unknown, but person-to-person transmission has been documented, particularly in healthcare settings. There is increasing evidence of a possible role of dromedary camels in the outbreak.

The WHO advises that people at potentially higher risk of severe disease due to MERS-CoV should avoid close contact with animals when visiting farms or barn areas in affected countries.

Anyone travelling to affected countries should practice normal hygiene measures, including frequent hand washing and use of hand sanitiser if soap and water are not available.

Seek immediate medical attention if you feel unwell with symptoms similar to MERS-CoV infection while travelling or on your return to Australia. Be sure to tell your healthcare provider that you have travelled to a region with an incidence of MERS-CoV. Avoid close contact with people who are ill with these symptoms.

Written by Peter Needham

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