Thailand Reports First MERS Case

Thailand’s first MERS patient is believed to have brought in the disease from Oman and not South Korea.

AsianScientist (Jun. 19, 2015) – Thailand confirmed its first case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) after a 75-year-old businessman from Oman tested positive for the virus. Thailand’s Public Health Minister Rajata Rajatanavin broke the news at a press conference yesterday, adding that 59 others were being monitored for the virus, including three of the man’s relatives who traveled with him to Bangkok.

The latest case in Thailand comes amidst an ongoing outbreak in South Korea, which has killed 23 and infected more than 160 people to date.

Gaps in healthcare response

Similar to South Korea, Thailand’s health ministry has been criticized for its delayed response and diagnosis of the first MERS case in the country. Thai authorities took almost four days to confirm the country’s first case, raising fears that the virus could have spread to the general public during that period, Reuters reported.

“It took about four days to diagnose this case and two lab tests,” Rajata told Reuters.

Rajata declined to name the hospital where the infected patient first visited, but added that the patient remains under quarantine at an infectious diseases institute in Bangkok.

Healthcare policies and containment protocols play a significant role in controlling infectious diseases such as MERS, which are viral in nature and can be quickly spread through the public through being in close proximity with an infected person. Furthermore, the symptoms do not appear immediately but take five to six days to show, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Travel ban advised for suspected MERS patients

While Thailand’s case is not linked to South Korea’s outbreak, the WHO has advised South Korea to impose a travel ban on all suspected MERS patients and provide more timely information to the public. These recommendations were presented by Dr. Keiji Fukuda, assistant director-general for health security at the WHO, at a television conference following a five-day epidemiological study of the country’s MERS outbreak, according to Xinhua.

The study is a joint mission between the WHO and the Republic of Korea to assess the epidemiological patterns of the MERS coronavirus in the Republic of Korea, together with the characteristics of the virus and its clinical features. It also reviewed the public health measures implemented since the start identification of the first case on May 20, 2015.

The latest advisory comes as South Korea’s health ministry came under fire for its failure to enforce the quarantine of suspected MERS patients, as one infected person allegedly went to play golf while another went to China. Its closure of schools and quarantine of camels in its zoo has also been questioned by international critics, who argue that such measures could cause public anxiety. They also note that these efforts are directed in the wrong direction, since most of the infected patients acquired the virus from hospitals, not public places.

Governments worldwide have continued to keep up their vigilance of their borders and have stepped up efforts to prepare for an outbreak of MERS. Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH) has issued additional precautionary measures against MERS, such as temperature screening of all passengers arriving from the Middle East and South Korea, as well as ensuring that its local hospitals have protocols in place for suspected cases and pay additional attention to patients with travel history to those two regions.


Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Anton Strogonoff/Flickr/CC.
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Leonard graduated from Monash University with a degree in communications. He enjoys reading about science and nature.

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