The World Health Organisation has raised alarm over fears that the deadly Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS) discovered last year, and two human strains of bird flu-H5N1, which emerged a decade ago, and H7N9, first detected in China in March this year, are already spreading.
It has therefore urged health workers around the world to be on the alert for symptoms of any of the diseases, saying they have the potential of causing a pandemic.
MERS-coronavirus, which emerged last year in Saudi Arabia, has been confirmed in 55 people worldwide, killing 31 of them. WHO said of the 55 cases, 40 occurred in Saudi Arabia.
“We are trying to find out as much as we can and we are concerned about these viruses,” Andrew Harper, WHO Special Adviser for Health Security and Environment, said Monday.
According to him, international concern about these infections is high, because it is possible for thes viruses to move around the world.
Speaking about the MERS which symptoms include coughing, fever and pneumonia, the WHO said: “there have been several examples where the virus has moved from one country to another through travellers.”
The United Nations agency said travellers have carried the virus to Britain, France, Germany and Italy. Infected people have also been found in Jordan, Qatar, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates.
WHO said: “consequently, all countries in the world need to ensure that their healthcare workers are aware of the virus and the disease it can cause and that, when unexplained cases of pneumonia are identified, MERS-CoV should be considered.
“The overall number of cases is limited but the virus causes death in about 60 percent of patients.
“So far, about 75 percent of the cases in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have been in men and most have occurred in people with one or more major chronic conditions.”
The major challenge before the agency is that the source of the MERS virus is still unknown.
WHO further warned all countries in the Middle East and other parts of the world to urgently intensify disease surveillance to detect any MERS infections.