OFFICE of the National Security Adviser (NSA) has alerted the nation over a possible threat of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) which has killed about 15 persons in last few days in South Korea.
Hundreds of people are also under quarantine in that country.
The office has, as a result, asked the Federal Ministry of Health to activate the response plan and procedure to deal with an eventual outbreak.
In a letter to the Permanent Secretary at the ministry and sighted by The Guardian at the weekend, the office noted: “With Nigerians travelling all over the world for business and pleasure, the disease could likely be carried into Nigeria as it is transmitted through contact with an infected person.”
The letter entitled: ‘Likelihood of MERS outbreak in Nigeria’ dated June 10, 2015 and signed by Brigadier General TT Waya (rtd) for the National Security Adviser noted: “An outbreak of MERS-CoV in Nigeria would have obvious security and other implications…”
It continued: “On 20 May 2015, Republic of Korea’s index case of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) was confirmed. The virus was thereafter reported in China May 29, when a confirmed patient in the Republic of Korea travelled to Guangdong. This outbreak has been adjudged by the World Health Organisation (WHO), as the largest outside of Saudi Arabia. As at June 9, there are more than 108 confirmed cases leading to nine deaths, quarantine of over 3, 400 and closure of 2, 400 schools in South Korea.”
The WHO had raised a global alert and had on Friday, convened an Emergency Committee under the International Health Regulations (2005) to advise it as to whether this event constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) and on public health measures that should be taken.
In Nigeria, a public health expert and Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS), Dr. Oladoyin Odubanjo has called for the activation of a response plan for MERS.
He wants Nigeria to start screening passengers who are coming from relevant countries.
He told The Guardian yesterday: “Ebola should have taught us that it is better to prevent an outbreak than to try to curtail one. It also means that we should have more experienced professionals to do whatever is necessary.”
Meanwhile, Professor of Virology and President of the Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS), Prof. Oyewale Tomori has called on the Nigerian government to channel part of the N1.9 billion approved for Ebola emergency during the outbreak in Nigeria last year towards developing Nigeria’s laboratory capabilities as a way of preparing for major outbreaks and intensifying research.
Tomori told The Guardian: “During the Ebola epidemic, it is clear that the two laboratories in University of Lagos Teaching Hospital (LUTH) and Redeemer’s University were able to function effectively, not because they were supported by the Federal Government, but because they both received substantial funding from external agencies.
It does appear that the laboratories in Nigeria with sustained capability for rapid, accurate, and reliable diagnosis of viral hemorrhagic fever infections such as Lassa, Ebola and Yellow Fever, rely on external funding.
“The funding of diagnostic laboratories in Nigeria requires urgent attention, as Nigeria’s certification from Ebola may only be a temporary relief, as we are not out of Ebola woods yet. So long as there remains a case anywhere in the world. It was Ebola the last time. Other pathogens are around the corner, waiting to decimate as Ebola.
“Nigeria will be better served if some of the N1.9 billion earmarked for Ebola and related issues is made available to improve and upgrade our laboratory facilities.”
The United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) as a viral respiratory illness that is new to humans.
There is currently no vaccine to prevent MERS-CoV infection though CDC routinely advises Americans to help protect themselves from respiratory illnesses by washing hands often, avoiding close contact with people who are sick, avoiding touching their eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands, and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces.
“It was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and has since spread to several other countries, including the United States.
Most people infected with MERS-CoV developed severe acute respiratory illness, including fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Many of them have died,” CDC says.
Experts say some infected people had mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, but most people infected with MERS-CoV developed severe respiratory illness.
“They had fever, cough and shortness of breath.
Others reported having gastrointestinal symptoms, like diarrhea and nausea/vomiting, and kidney failure. MERS can even be deadly. Many people have died,” a fact sheet from CDC said yesterday.
On how MERS spreads, CDC noted: “MERS-CoV is thought to spread from an infected person to others through respiratory secretions, such as coughing. In other countries, the virus has spread from person to person through close contact, such as caring for or living with an infected person.
“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).”
According to the World Health Organisation, “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.”
If the ailment is contagious, WHO says: “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 healthcare 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.”
WHO urges member states to enhance their surveillance for severe acute respiratory infections (SARI) and to carefully review any unusual patterns of SARI or cases of pneumonia.
Cases should be isolated as soon as possible, and close contacts should be identified and monitored.
The organisation also encourages countries to raise awareness of MERS and to provide information to travelers.