‘Monitor passengers at airport to stop MERS entry into India’

New Delhi, June 18 (IANS) Following the rise in the number of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) cases in South Korea, medical experts here have advised the government to quarantine incoming travellers from Korea in order to prevent the breakout of the disease in India.

They have said that MERS was almost 70 times severe than swine flu or any other respiratory disease and caused respiratory failure, organ failure, especially of the kidneys, and septic shock shortly after a patient was inflicted with MERS.

“By setting up quarantine, the spread of the disease in India can be stopped. This disease not only causes respiratory failure within a short period but can also turn fatal due to no proper treatment,” Amit Dhamija, consultant in chest medicine at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Delhi told IANS.

South Korea has reported 165 confirmed MERS cases, while 23 people have succumbed to the disease. Also, 6,729 people are in quarantine after they were suspected to be infected with the deadly disease.

Describing MERS as a new entrant in the respiratory disease category, Dhamijha said MERS was caused by coronavirus (MERS CoV) that was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause diseases ranging from common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

“The disease being completely new, researchers have not been able to ascertain the actual reason behind its occurrence and this has made it difficult to come up with a proper treatment,” he said.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), a typical case of MERS exhibits fever, cough, shortness of breath, pneumonia and gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhoea.

Sunit K. Singh, a renowned molecular virologist of the Institute of Medical Sciences at Banaras Hindu University (BHU) said the incubation period for MERS has been reported usually between five to six days, but it may span two to 14 days.

“Though the exact way of the (MERS-CoV) virus spread is yet unknown, it is believed that it spreads from an infected person’s respiratory secretions,” Sunit Singh, head of the Molecular Biology Unit at Banaras Hindu University (BHU), told IANS.

He said there were two main ways of diagnosis of MERS-CoV infections –Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) Test and Serological test.

“Polymerase chain reaction is done with respiratory samples, which can indicate if a suspected case is suffering from active infection with MERS-CoV or not, while the Serological test is performed by using blood samples through ELISA (Enzyme-linked Immunosorbent Assay), Immunofluorescent assay (IFA) and the Neutralizing anti-body assay,” he said.

Looking at the severity and increasing MERS cases in the middle east and South Korea, WHO had recently conducted an emergency meeting of nations regarding MERS-CoV and has come up with the major factors behind the spread of the disease which are: Lack of awareness among health care workers and the general public about MERS; sub-optimal infection prevention and control measures in hospitals; and practice of seeking care at multiple hospitals.

Shivendu Mukherjee, a noted chest medicine expert and currently with the Kolkata-based Downtown hospital, said travel was one of the biggest factors contributing to the spread of a disease in a short period of time.

“Even during the outbreak of swine flu and suspected Ebola cases, travel was considered to be the main reason. Currently, though India has not seen any patient with MERS, setting up quarantine is necessary as there is a huge inflow of NRIs, tourists and even patients for medical care from the Middle East and South Korea,” Mukherjee told IANS.

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