As you may already know, the first case of MERS has been discovered in Thailand. A report from Reuters.com gives the main details:

s3.reutersmedia.netThailand confirmed its first case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) on Thursday, becoming the fourth Asian country to register the deadly virus this year. Public Health Minister Rajata Rajatanavin told a news conference that a 75-year-old businessman from Oman had tested positive for MERS.

"From two lab tests we can confirm that the MERS virus was found," Rajata said, adding the man had traveled to Bangkok for medical treatment for a heart condition.

"The first day he came he was checked for the virus. The patient ... contracted the MERS virus."

The health minister said 59 others were being monitored for the virus, including three of the man's relatives who traveled with him to Bangkok.

We have scoured the internet to bring you the latest information on the outbreak, to not only keep you informed, but also to put the situation in perspective. There are currently no travel warnings in place for Thailand, and in fact a number of western countries, including USA, UK, France, Germany, Netherlands and Italy, have all reported cases prior to the Thailand case.

If the situation changes for the worse, we will be contacting registered volunteers, either directly and/or via the volunteer agencies, to update and review. Below are some questions which you may be asking yourself (Source: WHO website)

What is Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS)?

Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) is a viral respiratory disease caused by a 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 the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

Where is MERS occurring?

The following 25 countries have reported cases of MERS: Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen (Middle East); Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Turkey, and the United Kingdom (UK) (Europe); Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt (Africa); China, Malaysia, Republic of Korea and the Philippines (Asia); and the United States of America (Americas).

The vast majority of these cases have so far occurred in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The latest information on cases can be found here:Latest information

What are the symptoms of MERS? How severe is the syndrome?

A typical case of MERS includes of fever, cough, and/or shortness of breath. Pneumonia is a common finding on examination. Gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhoea, have also been reported. Severe illness can cause respiratory failure that requires mechanical ventilation and support in an intensive‐care unit. Some patients have had organ failure, especially of the kidneys, or septic shock. The virus appears to cause more severe disease in people with weakened immune systems, older people, and those with such chronic diseases as diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease.

Can a person be infected with the MERS virus and not be ill?

Yes. Infected persons with no symptoms have been found because they were tested for MERS‐CoV during follow‐up studies of contacts of people with MERS infection. It is not always possible to identify patients with MERS-CoV early because the early symptoms are non-specific. For this reason, all health care facilities should have standard infection prevention and control practices in place for infectious diseases.

How do people get MERS-CoV?

Transmission from animals to humans

It is not yet fully understood how people become infected with MERS‐CoV, which is a zoonotic virus. It is believed that humans can be infected through direct or indirect contact with infected dromedary camels in the Middle East. Strains of MERS-CoV have been identified in camels in several countries, including Egypt, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Transmission from humans to humans

The virus does not appear to pass easily from person to person unless there is close contact such as providing clinical care to an infected patient while not applying strict hygiene measures. This has been seen among family members, patients, and health‐care workers. The majority of cases have resulted from human-to-human transmission in health care settings.

Is MERS-CoV contagious?

Yes, but apparently only to a limited extent. The virus does not seem to pass easily from person to person unless there is close contact, such as occurs when providing unprotected care to a patient. There have been clusters of cases in health‐care facilities, where human‐to‐human transmission appears to be more efficient, especially when infection prevention and control practices are inadequate. Thus far, no sustained human-to-human transmission has been documented.

What is the source of the MERS virus—bats, camels, domestic animals?

The source of the MERS-CoV is not yet fully clear. A coronavirus very similar to the one found in humans has been isolated from camels in Egypt, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. . It is possible that other reservoirs exist. However, other animals, including goats, cows, sheep, water buffalo, swine, and wild birds, have been tested for MERS‐CoV, but so far none have been found in these animals. These studies combined support the premise that dromedary camels are a likely source of infection in humans.

Is there a vaccine against MERS‐CoV? What is the treatment?

In countries in the Middle East affected by MERS-CoV, as a general precaution, anyone visiting farms, markets, barns, or other places where animals are present should practice general hygiene measures, including regular hand washing before and after touching animals, and avoid contact with sick animals.

The consumption of raw or undercooked animal products, including milk and meat, carries a high risk of infection from a variety of organisms that might cause disease in humans. Animal products processed appropriately through cooking or pasteurization are safe for consumption, but should also be handled with care to avoid cross‐contamination with uncooked foods. Camel meat and camel milk are nutritious products that can continue to be consumed after pasteurization, cooking, or other heat treatments.

Until more is understood about MERS, people with diabetes, renal failure, chronic lung disease, and immunocompromised persons are considered to be at high risk of severe disease from MERS‐CoV infection. Especially in the Middle East people should avoid contact with camels, consuming raw camel milk or camel urine, as well as eating meat that has not been properly cooked.

Camel farm and slaughterhouse workers in the affected areas should practice good personal hygiene, including frequent hand washing after touching animals, facial protection where feasible, and the wearing of protective clothing, which should be removed after work and washed daily. Workers should also avoid exposing family members to soiled work clothing, shoes, or other items that may have come into contact with camels or camel excretions. Sick animals should never be slaughtered for consumption. People should avoid direct contact with any animal that has been confirmed positive for MERS‐CoV.

Is there a vaccine against MERS‐CoV? What is the treatment?

No vaccine or specific treatment is currently available. Treatment is supportive and based on the patient’s clinical condition.

Are health‐care workers at risk from MERS‐CoV?

Yes. Transmission of MERS-CoV has occurred in health‐care facilities in several countries, including from patients to health‐care providers. It is not always possible to identify patients with MERS‐CoV early or without testing because symptoms and other clinical features may be non‐specific.

For this reason, it is important that health‐care workers apply standard precautions consistently with all patients.

Droplet precautions should be added to standard precautions when providing care to all patients with symptoms of acute respiratory infection. Contact precautions and eye protection should be added when caring for suspected or confirmed cases of MERS‐CoV infection. Airborne precautions should be applied when performing aerosol‐generating procedures.

How is WHO responding to the MERS-CoV outbreak?

WHO is working with clinicians and scientists to gather and share scientific evidence to better understand the virus and the disease it causes, and to determine outbreak response priorities, treatment strategies, and clinical management approaches. WHO is working with affected countries and international technical partners and networks to coordinate the global health response, including providing updated information on the situation, conducting risk assessments and joint investigations with national authorities, convening scientific meetings, and developing guidance and training for health authorities and technical health agencies on interim surveillance recommendations, laboratory testing of cases, infection prevention and control, and clinical management.

The Director‐General has convened an Emergency Committee under the International Health Regulations (2005) to advise her as to whether this event constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) and on public health measures that should be taken. Up-to-date information on the deliberations of the Committee can be found here: IHR emergency committee

Travel advice for countries, practitioners, and individuals

The following advice is given to reduce the risk of MERS‐CoV infection among travellers and those associated with their travel, including transport operators and ground staff, and to increase self reporting of illness by travellers:

General travel advice

Given the current pattern of transmission of the disease WHO does not recommend travel or trade restrictions with regard to this event.

However, based on countries’ risk assessment, precautions aimed at raising awareness of MERS-CoV and its symptoms among travellers to and from affected areas, can be taken.

As required by the International Health Regulations (IHR 2005), countries should ensure that routine measures are in place for assessing ill travellers detected on board means of transport (such as planes and ships) and at points of entry, as well as measures for safe transportation of symptomatic travellers to hospitals or designated facilities for clinical assessment and treatment. If a sick traveller is on board a plane, a passenger locator form can be used. This form is useful for collecting contact information for passengers, which can be used for follow-up if necessary.

Information regarding other diseases can be found on the WHO website, here

General health information regarding Thailand can be found here

Our situation in Chiang Rai

We are completely unaffected by this, as is 99.99999999999999% of the country's population. We are continuing as normal, and don't foresee any need to advise against travel here. Of course, if the situation changes, we will reassess and advise again. Please feel free to do your own research, and ask questions if necessary. Our paramount concern is for the safety of those coming to donate their time, and those living here, so we will stay on top of this for as long as it takes.

The Ecotours Team

Thailand Volunteer! - by The Mirror Foundation