Ministry goes on alert for Mers virus

The Public Health Ministry has ordered its 53 health provincial offices to set up a disease surveillance system for the risk of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in Thailand.

Public health deputy permanent secretary Wachira Pengchan said the risk of the disease making its way into Thailand is possible because about 18,000 people from Middle East countries travel in the country and about 14,000 Thai Hajj pilgrims and other Thai tourists left for the Middle East region last month.

The Thai Hajj pilgrims travelled from 53 provinces where Muslims live, particularly in the South.

Dr Wachira said he ordered directors of 53 health provincial offices to set up the disease surveillance system and increase their surveillance.

He said health officials should monitor a group of Thai pilgrims who had just returned from 14 days in the Middle East to see if they contracted the disease.

Dr Wachira yesterday spoke about the matter after a meeting of health provincial office directors and tourism operators.

Earlier, the World Health Organisation (WHO) expressed concern about a recent sharp rise in MERS-CoV cases in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

From September 2012 to April 26 this year, WHO has been informed of a total of 261 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection with MERS-CoV, including 93 deaths, it said.

MERS is viral respiratory illness first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. It is caused by a coronavirus called MERS-CoV. Most people who have been confirmed to have MERS-CoV developed a severe acute respiratory illness. They suffer fever, cough, and shortness of breath.

Permanent secretary for public health Narong Sahametapat said the ministry will provide flu vaccines to a group of Umrah pilgrims who could be at risk of getting the virus. No case has been reported in Thailand so far.

Ten suspected MERS cases were reported last week in Pattani, Phetchaburi, Samut Prakan and Bangkok. However, lab tests found they did not contract MERS-CoV, even though they had returned from Middle East trips, he said.

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