First case of deadly MERS virus in Thailand: 175 exposed, authorities take immediate action, quarantines people

Authorities in Thailand confirm their first case of MERS after an Omani national tested positive for the deadly virus at a hospital here.

MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) is an infection caused by coronavirus (which includes the SARS, common cold and flu viruses). Although, it’s still not confirmed how it’s transmitted from one person to another, it is believed to spread from an infected person’s respiratory secretions, like coughing and sneezing.

The recent outbreak in South Korea was the second major outbreak after the virus was first recognized in the Middle East, back in 2012, causing the first death in Saudi Arabia in June of the same year.The infected patients most commonly report having a fever, cough and breathing difficulties but it can also worsen and lead to pneumonia and kidney failure.

The World Health Organisation’s office in Thailand has provided specialists and advisers to help Thailand contain any MERS outbreak. In addition, health authorities are working with other agencies like the Foreign Ministry, the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration to curtail the spread of the virus before it becomes epidemic.

Authorities are working hard to makre sure the situation remains under control, with a total of 141 people in the country on the watch-list. Most of these people had already been located and quarantined, said Dr Rajata Rajatanavin, Public Health Minister.

In South Korea, MERS spread at a rapid pace, infecting 166 people, the largest outbreak after it first appeared in the middle east. Samsung medical center was found responsible for half the cases of MERS. Thailand seeks to avoid this scenario by taking strict quarantine measures and isolating the infected patients.

“There are two groups of people who had close contact with the MERS patient. The first group of 66 people, including three close relatives, 47 medical staff and airline passengers who sat close to the patient on the plane on their way to Thailand are at greater risk,” Rajatanavin said.

“The second group has 75 people which came close to the patient but did not have direct contact. They were other airline passengers, taxi drivers and hotel staff. All of them will be monitored for 14 days but they don’t need to go to hospital yet,” the Minister added.

The chance of a widespread MERS outbreak in Thailand like that in South Korea is very low because Thai health authorities were able to identify the first patient quickly before he could travel further and infect other people, Rajatanavin said.

Rajatanavin also said the condition of the MERS patient, a 75-year-old man from Oman, had improved slightly but he was still in a special unit at Bamrasnaradura Infectious Diseases Institute in Nonthaburi.

Three of his close relatives had been isolated in the same unit as well, two of them have flu symptoms.

Meanwhile, Tourism Council of Thailand president Ittirit Kinglake said MERS could trigger fear among Thais as well as tourists staying in the country. However, he said people should not panic.

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