Via the Medicine Hat News, a report by Helen Branswell of The Canadian Press: Expert panel convenes to advise WHO on whether MERS is a public health emergency. Excerpt:
Has the mushrooming outbreak of the new MERS coronavirus reached the point where it is an international public health emergency?
That is the question a panel of outside experts will reconsider today as the World Health Organization’s so-called emergency committee on the MERS virus convenes for the fifth time. Dr. Theresa Tam, head of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Health Security Infrastructure Branch, is vice-chair of the committee.
Each previous time the group has expressed concerns about the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, a cousin of the SARS virus that has been causing sporadic and often severe or fatal illnesses in several countries on the Arabian Peninsula for the past two years.
But each previous time the group said the outbreak did not meet the definition of a public health emergency of international concern as set out in the International Health Regulations, legally binding rules that are designed to protect the world from disease threats that can cross borders.
The emergency committee last pondered the question in December, which MERS virus activity actually appeared to have slowed.
That’s not the case now. The cumulative global case count, which only crossed the 200 mark in late March, is fast approaching 600 now. Of those cases, more than 150 have died. (The WHO’s count lags behind the tally announced by governments; the global health agency said Saturday it had been informed of 536 cases and 145 deaths.)
Preben Aavitsland, Norway’s former state epidemiologist and one of the drafters of the International Health Regulations, believes the emergency committee will advise Director General Margaret Chan to declare MERS a global emergency or PHEIC (pronounced “fake”) in the jargon of the WHO.
In Aavitsland’s eyes, the declaration should have come long ago. Under the International Health Regulations, a public health emergency of international concern is a disease event that poses a health risk to other states because of the potential for cross-border spread and is one that requires a co-ordinated international response.
“Already from the start it was clear that this was a disease that could be exported. And just now we got a new example from Florida,” says Aavitsland, referring to Monday’s announcement that the United States had detected its second case of MERS, in a health-care professional who travelled from Jidda, Saudi Arabia to Orlando, Fla., on May 1 via London, Boston and Atlanta.