21 August 2019
Camels are believed to be the hosts of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus. Photo: NPR
Camels are believed to be the hosts of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus. Photo: NPR

Hong Kong expert warns public as US reports MERS cases

The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), a respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus similar to the Severe Acute Respitaroty Syndrome, has spread to the United States where there are now three reported cases.

Ho Pak Leung, an associate professor of the Department of Microbiology at the University of Hong Kong, said the virus could be spread by an infected person in a short period of time, although the risk of it spreading throughout a community was minimal, Sky Post reported on Monday.

The latest case was an Illinois resident who had contact with a patient who just returned from Saudi Arabia, it said. During their encounter, they shook hands and talked for about 40 minutes. 

The US Department of Health and Human Services said the third case did not show any signs of infection when health officers took blood samples from people who had an encounter with the first patient, although his blood sample showed that his body had produced antibiotics to fight the virus.

Hong Kong’s Center for Health Protection said it was closely monitoring developments regarding the MERS, and coordinating with the World Health Organization (WHO) and regional health departments.

It advised people traveling to the Middle East not to ride camels to reduce the risk of being infected, the report said.

Ho earlier said in a radio interview that camels are suspected to be the hosts of the new virus, but the WHO and health authorities in the region did not make any such warning.  He also criticized authorities in the Middle East for allowing MERS patients to travel, thus increasing the risk of the virus spreading to other places.

As of May 1, a total of 30 MERS cases have been reported across the world, and 18 of them have died. The 60 percent ratio is even higher than the 20 percent for the H7N9 avian influenza in mainland China.

In Saudi Arabia alone, there were 13 MERS cases from one hospital, while other countries including the United Kingdom, Germany and Jordan also reported cases of the disease, they said.

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