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DH closely monitors additional MERS cases in Saudi Arabia

     The Department of Health (DH) is today (June 8) closely monitoring five additional cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), including one death, reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), and again urged the public to pay special attention to safety during travel, taking due consideration of the health risks of the places of visit.

     "Travellers to the Middle East should avoid going to farms, barns or markets with camels, and avoid contact with sick persons and animals, especially camels, birds or poultry. In addition, in view of the latest situation in Korea, the public should avoid unnecessary travel to Korea, in particular, those with chronic illnesses. Travellers in Korea and the Middle-East should avoid unnecessary visit to health-care facilities (HCFs)," a spokesman for the DH said.

     According to the WHO, among the five males aged from 45 to 64 (median age 53), three had underlying illnesses. They developed symptoms between May 20 and 27. A 54-year-old patient passed away.

     In addition, three previously confirmed patients died.

     To date, in addition to the 87 laboratory-confirmed MERS cases (including six deaths) involved in the outbreak in Korea, 1 154 cases have been reported to the WHO, including at least 444 deaths. Of note, 1 129 (94 per cent) of the 1 195 cases globally were confirmed in nine Middle East countries, including 1 015 in the KSA, 72 in the United Arab Emirates, 13 in Qatar, 12 in Jordan, six each in Iran and Oman, three in Kuwait, and one each in Lebanon and Yemen.

     The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the DH is seeking more information on the cases from the WHO and the relevant health authorities, and will remain vigilant and work closely with the WHO as well as overseas and neighbouring health authorities to monitor the latest developments.

     "We strongly advise travel agents organising tours to the Middle East to abstain from arranging camel rides and activities involving direct contact with camels, which are a known risk factor for acquiring MERS. Travellers should avoid going to farms, barns or markets with camels, and avoid contact with animals, especially camels, birds, poultry or sick people during travel," the spokesman said.
     "According to the WHO, among the recently exported cases in which the patients reported performing Umrah in the KSA, investigations revealed that they had either visited an HCF or had come into contact with camels or raw camel products while in the KSA. As Ramadan will begin in mid-June, pilgrims preparing to go to the KSA for Umrah should be vigilant against MERS," the spokesman said.
     Travellers returning from the Middle East who develop respiratory symptoms should wear face masks, seek medical attention and report their travel history to the doctor. Health-care workers (HCWs) should arrange MERS-CoV testing for them. Patients' lower respiratory tract specimens should be tested when possible and repeat testing should be undertaken when clinical and epidemiological clues strongly suggest MERS.
     Early identification of MERS-CoV is important, but not all cases can be detected in a timely manner, especially mild or atypical cases. HCWs should maintain vigilance and adhere to strict infection control measures while handling suspected or confirmed cases to reduce the risk of transmission to other patients, HCWs or visitors. Regular training and education should be provided.
     "Scientific evidence supports the premise that camels are the primary source of MERS-CoV resulting in human infection. A study further suggested that human MERS-CoV infections could occur through close contact with infected camels," the spokesman added.
     Locally, the DH's surveillance mechanism with public and private hospitals, with practising doctors and at boundary control points is firmly in place. Suspected cases identified will be sent to public hospitals for isolation and management until their specimens test negative for MERS-CoV. The DH has also kept ethnic minority and religious groups updated of the disease status and necessary preventive measures.
     "MERS is a statutorily notifiable infectious disease and the CHP's Public Health Laboratory Services Branch is capable of detecting the virus. No human cases have been recorded in Hong Kong so far," the spokesman said.
     "The Government will be as transparent as possible in the dissemination of information. Whenever there is a suspected case, particularly involving patients with travel history to the Middle East, the CHP will release information to the public as soon as possible," the spokesman added.
     Travellers to affected areas should maintain vigilance, adopt appropriate health precautions and take heed of personal, food and environmental hygiene:
* Avoid unnecessary visit to Korea and HCFs in affected areas;
* Avoid going to farms, barns or markets with camels;
* Avoid contact with animals (especially camels), birds, poultry or sick people during travel;
* Wash hands regularly before and after touching animals in case of visits to farms or barns;
* Do not consume raw or undercooked animal products, including milk and meat, or foods which may be contaminated by animal secretions, excretions (such as urine) or products, unless they have been properly cooked, washed or peeled;
* Seek medical consultation immediately if feeling unwell;
* Wash hands before touching the eyes, nose and mouth, and after sneezing, coughing or cleaning the nose; and
* Wash hands before eating or handling food, and after using the toilet.
     The public may visit the pages below for more information and health advice:
* The CHP's MERS page (;
* MERS statistics in affected areas (;
* List of hospitals with confirmed MERS case(s) announced by Korea (
* The MERS page of the DH's Travel Health Service (;
* The CHP Facebook Page (;
* The CHP YouTube Channel (; and
* The WHO's latest news (
     Tour leaders and tour guides operating overseas tours are advised to refer to the CHP's health advice on MERS (

Ends/Monday, June 8, 2015
Issued at HKT 19:42


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