MERS: thanks to international travel, Australia’s not immune

MERS concept: woman in hygiene mask

Emergency department workers should ask questions about international travel, says the Australasian College for Infection Prevention and Control, as Australia is not immune from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

ACIPC patron Professor Peter Collignon says the MERS outbreak in North Korea is significant because transmission has occurred uniquely within healthcare settings.

It is clear that Australia cannot think it is immune from diseases such as MERS, he says.

“With so much international air travel taking place, the risk of coming into contact with infectious diseases greatly increases,” he says.

“Whether it be MERS, SARS or some other multi-resistant super bug, if we have in place a routine which asks people where they have travelled in the past month, we will have a much better chance of isolating potential diseases and putting in place effective infection control.

“In South Korea MERS infections occurred within healthcare environments as either cross infections with other patients or healthcare professionals,” Prof Collignon says.

“This shows the vital importance of strong infection control such as good hand hygiene, respiratory prevention measures and separating patients where necessary.

“In Australia we already set very high standards of infection control in our hospitals. Adding a travel history check to our admission procedures will give us an additional weapon in the fight against the spread of potentially fatal diseases such as MERS.”

To date there have been 1353 confirmed cases of MERS globally, including 481 deaths. In South Korea the WHO reports 180 cases and 29 deaths. There have been no cases in Australia.

MERS has a global fatality rate of 36%. All cases can be linked to a person who has either lived in or travelled to the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia. Camels are suspected of being the primary source of infection for humans.

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