WHO emergency committee to discuss Middle East flu virus

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Doctors look at an X-ray. Photo: WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) says the spread of the Middle East coronavirus is yet to reach emergency or pandemic levels but is urging health authorities worldwide to step up surveillance.

WHO says it will convene an emergency committee of international health experts to deliberate on the spread of the virus and to determine whether the disease constitutes a public health emergency of international concern.

Seventy cases including 40 deaths have been reported since the first case of the Middle East coronavirus was reported in September 2012.

Most of the cases have been reported in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Five other countries including France, Germany, Italy, Tunisia and the United Kingdom have reported cases all associated with travels to the Middle East.

Concern is however growing over the possible international spread of the virus during the upcoming Umrah and Hajj in Saudi Arabia, religious events which attract up to four million pilgrims from around the world.

Dr. Keiji Fukuda is the WHO Assistant Director-General, Health Security and Environment.

"The advice we have been giving to Saudi Arabia but also other countries is that we don’t thinks that we should try to slow or disrupt travel right now. The penalty for that will be very high. Its warranted in some instances but in this instance what we have asked national authorities to do is to work with their medical communities so that they know about this infection, they know that if they see somebody who comes in with a severe pneumonia and particularly if they have been traveling to the middle east that they really look that this may be the corona virus and at the same time to get the message out to travelers going to the middle east they may be travelling for the hajj or business reasons also to know that if they go there and if they become sick they should be especially careful to seek medical attention if they are feeling sick." 

Dr Fukuda says the source of the Middle East corona virus remains unknown and human to human transmission is sporadic.

The symptoms of the disease include severe respiratory infections, pneumonia and in serious cases victims have suffered multiple organ failure.

Patrick Maigua, United Nations Radio, Geneva.

Duration 2:18

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