MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2016

Hong Kong urges public to take precautions against MERS

The Hong Kong Department of Health (DH) recently announced that it is closely monitoring cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), calling on the public to maintain adequate personal and environmental hygiene during international travel.

The nine patients currently experiencomg symptoms of MERS include seven patients between 52 and 74 years old in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and two patients aged 50 and 67 from the United Arab Emirates, according to a DH press release.

A spokesman for the Hong Kong Department of Health said recent studies have supported the idea that camels are the source of infection.

"We strongly advise travel agents organizing tours to the Middle East not to arrange camel rides and activities involving camel contact, which may increase the risk of infection," the DH spokesman said. "In addition, travelers are reminded to avoid going to farms, barns or markets with camels, and avoid contact with animals, especially camels, birds, poultry or sick people during travel."

MERS was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2010-it is caused by a coronavirus called MERS-CoV, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The first U.S.-based case of MERS was confirmed in a traveler from Saudi Arabia in May.

Symptoms of the disease include fever, cough or shortness of breath, as well as potential gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea and vomiting.

"Persons with underlying illnesses, such as diabetes, renal failure, chronic lung disease and immunodeficiency, are more likely to develop severe infections for MERS if exposed to the virus," the DH spokesman said. "Pilgrims should consult a healthcare provider before traveling to review the risk and assess whether making the pilgrimage is advisable."