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WHO Reassures the Public: MERS is not a Global Health Emergency

Update Date: May 15, 2014 10:00 AM EDT

Even though the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) has continued to infect people, with some cases showing up outside of the Middle East, the World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that MERS is not yet a public health emergency. According to the agency's news release, there is still "no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission."

"It's the [viruses] that can really sustain transmission in communities which pose the greatest danger of spreading around the world and causing large numbers of illnesses and deaths," Keiji Fukuda, WHO's assistant director-general for health security, stated reported by the New York Daily News. "[And] there is no convincing evidence right now for an increase in the transmissibility of this virus."

So far, MERS has mostly been contained within Saudi Arabia and some nearby nations. The United States, however, confirmed two cases of MERS near the beginning of May. Both patients were health care workers that had returned from Saudi Arabia. Neither patient had spread the illness to the medical professionals that cared for them within the States. Both patients have recovered from the illness.

Since MERS first showed up in 2012, the coronavirus has affected 538 people and killed 145. Saudi Arabia has dealt with the majority of the cases with 450 confirmed illnesses and 118 deaths. MERS causes coughing, fever and in some cases, fatal pneumonia. WHO reported that although MERS is not a threat to the global world, it still needs to be better contained and monitored. WHO has also stated that more studies should be conducted to understand the virus better.

"We would not be surprised to see more cases, but we are not predicting there will be," commented the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Dr. Tom Frieden.

Ben Neuman, a virus expert at Britain's University of Reading, added, "It is important to remember that MERS still does not spread very efficiently between people. It is a very serious disease if you are unlucky enough to catch it, but the odds of catching the virus - even in Saudi Arabia - are still very small"

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