MERS virus first case outside Middle East

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The strain of MERS, which has been found in Toronto, is in the Omicron serotype

Toronto Public Health (TPH) has confirmed the city’s first confirmed cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outside the Middle East.

Four people have been infected with MERS outside the Middle East, all of whom have recovered, it says.

A record 163 people died from the disease in the last three years.

The MERS virus is an acute respiratory disease caused by a virus from the family of coronaviruses (CNV). It has been responsible for 93 outbreaks globally since it emerged in the Arabian Peninsula in 2012.

Report by World Health Organization

While it has been endemic in the Arabian Peninsula since 2012, it has spread via travel to other countries and via close contact with healthcare workers since 2013.

Symptoms of MERS can include coughing, fever, respiratory tract infections, breathing difficulties and sometimes death.

The strain, which was first identified in Dubai in 2012, has been found in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, United Kingdom, Italy, Tunisia, France, Israel, Oman, Jordan, Pakistan, Iraq, Canada, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Egypt, Oman, Romania, Spain, Turkey, Australia, Switzerland, Ukraine, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Nepal and several other countries.

In 2015, the virus was found in people not currently in close contact with anyone who had MERS, which is what led to an outbreak in Britain, where the strain was also identified.

Since 2015, Toronto has seen repeated outbreaks of the Sars-like coronavirus, MERS-CoV, but MERS remains mild.

Writing in the Lancet medical journal, an MERS expert from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine says its first case outside the Middle East is worrying, but “cannot be considered a precursor to a major outbreak of the disease”.

“North America has a long history of chronic pulmonary diseases, which can be aggravated by a lack of oxygen as a result of chemotherapy or radiotherapy for cancer,” he added.

“Based on the international health travel patterns documented by the World Health Organization, we should expect periodic outbreaks in the Middle East before long term and widespread migratory travel in the South Asian subcontinent is reversed.”

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