WHO says deadly MERS virus does not constitute global emergency

LONDON Wed May 14, 2014 7:20am EDT

The Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronavirus is seen in an undated transmission electron micrograph from the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). REUTERS/National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases/Handout via Reuters

The Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronavirus is seen in an undated transmission electron micrograph from the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

Credit: Reuters/National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases/Handout via Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) - Concern about the deadly new Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus has "significantly increased" but the disease does not yet constitute a global public health emergency, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Wednesday.

The virus, which causes coughing, fever and sometimes fatal pneumonia, has been reported in more than 500 patients in Saudi Arabia alone and has spread to neighboring countries and in a few cases, to Europe and Asia. It kills about 30 percent of those who are infected.

The WHO's emergency committee, which met on Tuesday, said on Wednesday that based on current information, the seriousness of the situation had increased in terms of public health impact, but that there is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission of the virus.

"The committee concluded that the conditions for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) have not yet been met," the WHO said in a statement.

MERS is a virus from the same family as SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which killed around 800 people worldwide after it first appeared in China in 2002.

(Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Keith Weir)

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