MERS: Public health officials have asked travellers flying in from Bangkok to report at the nearest health centre if they have developed any symptoms of upper respiratory infections.

The notice follows after Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS CoV) was detected in a 71-year-old Omani traveller in Bangkok, Thailand on Friday.

The World Health Organisation’s regional office for South-East Asia (SEARO) has cautioned member states in the region against the continuing risks and the need to remain vigilant.

“All countries need to further enhance surveillance for severe acute respiratory infections, focus on early diagnosis, and step up infection prevention and control procedures in health-care facilities to rapidly detect any case of importation and effectively prevent its spread,” WHO SEARO director, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, said.

Health officials said that the ministry had consulted WHO office in Delhi and learnt that the situation is not so serious.

Director of public health department, Dr Pandup Tshering, said that measures are already in place. “We’ll step up the screening process at the Paro airport. Airport health officials are informed and the facilities are put in place.”

The airport has a health desk with two health personnel.

“The incubation period of the virus is two weeks. So if those who returning from Bangkok has any respiratory symptoms, they should immediately visit the nearest health centre,” said Dr Pandup Tshering.

Symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Pneumonia is common, but not always present. Gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhoea, have also been reported.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause diseases ranging from common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The virus does not appear to pass easily from person to person unless there is close contact, such as providing unprotected care to an infected patient.

This is the second MERS CoV case in Thailand and in the WHO South-East Asia Region in the span of seven months.

The Thai health ministry has traced 37 people who have been in physical contact with the infected person. They are all under observation.

Thailand’s first MERS case was detected in June 2015 in a businessman from Oman who survived the disease.

MERS was first identified in humans in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Majority of cases have been in the Middle East.

Tshering Palden