WHO gives Thailand high marks for MERS response

June 22TF-1The World Health Organization has praised Thailand for its swift response to the Kingdom’s first confirmed case of MERS, the potentially deadly virus known as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

Earlier last week, Thai public health officials identified a 75-year-old man from Oman who arrived Thailand seeking medical care as the first confirmed case of MERS in Thailand. The man, who had traveled to Thailand with three family members, had no fever upon arriving in the Kingdom on June 15, but tested positive for MERS when he sought treatment at a Thai hospital three days later for another illness. Earlier suspected cases of MERS in Thailand had turned out to be negative upon testing.

At a news briefing in Geneva, Switzerland, WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said that Thai authorities have reached 59 people known to have had recent contact with the patient. They include members of his family and health workers treating the man. All have been quarantined immediately for 14 days. Several others who had contact with the patient are also being sought, but officials said they were at low risk for having been infected.

The WHO said the action by Thai government had been “swift and rapid.” The Kingdom has also been in touch with authorities in Oman to share information about the case.

Thailand has one of the best public health systems among developing countries, and the Kingdom has won praise from the WHO and other U.N. agencies in the past for its swift and effective screenings, surveillance and overall responses to the SARS and Avian Influenza epidemics.

Thai public health officials asked the public not to panic and assured people that contracting MERS was not easy through casual contact. Close contact between individuals is required for the virus to spread.

Thai officials are implementing comprehensive measures to prevent the spread of MERS. They are reviewing and strengthening infection prevention and control measures at the hospital where the patient was initially admitted. They are also carrying out contact tracing of household and healthcare contacts, and activating the Emergency Operation Center as well as preparedness and response units. Screenings and surveillance at airports and all ports of entry are being stepped up.

Thai authorities had been more concerned that a Thai citizen would contract the virus while visiting South Korea, where an outbreak has been ongoing for several weeks. South Korea is a favored destination of Thai tourists.

Globally, since September 2012, WHO has been notified of 1,334 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS-infections, including at least 471 related deaths.


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