Emergency steps taken to defeat MERS as more fall victim to virus

RIYADH: Over the past two days, Riyadh has become the target of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus with 18 new infections and three deaths.

According to the Ministry of Health, Monday saw two deaths and nine new cases, while on Tuesday one person died and nine were infected. The infections during the 48-hour period included Saudis and expatriates aged between 28 and 86. The virus claimed the lives of a Saudi man, 50, Saudi woman, 56, and a 71-year-old expatriate man.

Since June 2012, there have been 1,115 cases of MERS, with 480 deaths, 590 patients who have recovered, and 45 currently under treatment at government hospitals or at home.

With so many cases in Riyadh, the ministry has issued an advisory for health workers to be careful while handling suspected MERS patients.

Hanan Bint Hasan Al-Balki, executive director of preventive medicine at the National Guard Ministry, said King Abdulaziz Medical City has enforced a 24-hour alert at its emergency and outpatient department to deal with cases.

“We have allocated three special isolation wards to deal with MERS patients and have suspended surgeries that can be postponed to a later date,” she said. As a precautionary measure, Al-Balki said that the hospital has reduced visiting hours and curtailed the number of visitors to the wards where such patients are treated.

“We are also carrying out programs for infection control among health officials, patients and visitors,” she said.

Khalid Al-Mirghalani, the ministry’s spokesman, said the Central Command Center (CCC) has intensified preventive measures by organizing awareness programs among the public and hospital staff to prevent the virus from spreading.

He said the CCC carries out epidemiological surveillance in accordance with global standards set out by the World Health Organization and United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Meanwhile, some camel owners are not cooperating with the authorities, which is hampering the fight against MERS, according to Khalid Al-Fuhaid, spokesman of the Agriculture Ministry, who said the Interior Ministry is dealing with these people.

“Unfortunately we are facing repeated instances where some camel owners are refusing to cooperate with the ministry, which hinders efforts to combat the disease,” he was quoted as saying in a local publication on Tuesday.

Al-Fuhaid said his ministry is working with other government bodies and international organizations to fight MERS.

This includes conducting scientific studies on the disease and its prevalence on various animal farms.

He said the ministry is cooperating with secretariats and municipalities across the Kingdom to remove camel markets and breeding barns from urban areas. “Such markets and barns inside urban areas will contribute to the rapid transmission of the virus,” he said.

He said there was also coordination with the Health Ministry to get updates on MERS and other diseases commonly shared by humans and animals, such as rabies and brucellosis.

Al-Fuhaid said the Agriculture Ministry has also deployed inspectors and other staff to work at slaughterhouses. He warned that people should cook camel milk properly before consumption.

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