April 24, 2014 - 8:00 AM
TORONTO - The World Health Organization is warning countries to be on the lookout for cases of MERS in people returning from Middle Eastern countries affected by the virus.
In an updated risk assessment, the WHO notes there have been several recent instances where cases were exported to Greece, Malaysia, Jordan and the Philippines.
The global health agency says it is very likely infections will continue to be exported in tourists, religious pilgrims or foreign nationals who travel to or work in countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The WHO suggests countries increase awareness among travellers about the new disease, but it does not recommend border screening of travellers or the application of travel or trade restrictions against affected countries.
A senior official of the Public Health Agency of Canada says federal authorities are in regular communications with provincial and territorial counterparts about the situation and the possibility of imported cases of MERS or avian influenza in travellers.
Dr. Theresa Tam says since last September more than 3,000 people have been screened in Canada, but to date no cases of MERS have been found.
"The whole system is on alert," says Tam, who is the head of the Public Health Agency's health security infrastructure branch.
"Like Greece or France or Italy, it's possible to get a traveller for sure. And so the system is designed to try to pick that up."
France, Italy, Germany and Britain have also diagnosed MERS cases in people who travelled to the Middle East or flew from there to Europe for treatment. Those events happened earlier in 2012 and 2013.
The number of MERS cases has soared this month, fuelled by outbreaks in health-care settings in Jidda, Saudi Arabia, and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
The WHO has confirmed 254 cases, but at this point its tally lags far behind the numbers reported by affected countries. The combined case count announced by the countries has reached about 375 cases since the first known infections occurred in April 2012.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2014