Health officials monitor for new virus

Local public health officials are monitoring for any signs of a new virus strain known as MERS-CoV in the Cayman Islands. 

There have been no local reports of the coronavirus that had been previously unidentified in humans and which has caused respiratory illnesses in the Middle East, leading the virus to be named the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus, or MERS-CoV. There have also been cases reported in Europe. Coronaviruses can cause illnesses in humans ranging from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS. 

“Travellers returning from the Middle East who develop breathing difficulties that are unexplained by any other illness or virus, should contact a doctor as soon as possible and state their travel history so that a correct diagnosis can be made,” a notice issued by the Cayman Islands Department of Public Health on Thursday read. 

The World Health Organization reports that there had been 54 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection with MERS-CoV, including 30 deaths since last September. 

Cases have been reported in the Middle Eastern countries of Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as in France, Germany, Italy, Tunisia and the United Kingdom. Due to the small number of cases reported so far, there is little information available on how the virus is transmitted or how severe it is. 

Investigations are under way to determine the source of the virus, the types of exposure that lead to the infection, the mode of transmission, and the clinical pattern and course of disease.  

In France, Italy, Tunisia and the United Kingdom, there has been limited local transmission among patients who had not been to the Middle East, but had been in close contact with the laboratory-confirmed or probable cases. 

MERS-CoV is an acute, serious respiratory illness with fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.  

Most patients with the virus have developed pneumonia and many have also had gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhoea, while some have had kidney failure.  

For people with immune deficiencies, the disease may have an atypical presentation.  

“It is important to note that the current understanding of illness caused by this infection is based on only a few cases and may change as we learn more about this virus,” the public health announcement said, adding that the chances of contracting the virus are small. 

At the moment, there is no vaccine available and no specific treatment for disease caused by MERS-CoV, as treatment is based on the patients’ symptoms.  

The World Health Organization has not advised special screening for MERS-CoV at points of entry nor recommended any travel or trade restrictions. 

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