Bahrain says 'powerless' to stop Mers virus
Manama, April 23, 2014
Bahrain is powerless to stop the deadly Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (Mers-CoV) that has already killed 81 Saudis from reaching the country, said a top Health Ministry official.
Dr Mariam Al Jalahma, Health Ministry primary care and public health care assistant under-secretary, told the Gulf Daily News (GDN), our sister publication, that although precautions can be taken to limit the spread of the virus, little can be done to prevent those infected with it from entering Bahrain.
"Screening on the borders won't work as it (Mers-CoV) shares the same symptoms as the flu and the incubation period before showing symptoms is between nine and 12 days - so someone may have had the virus for days and not even know," she said.
"The only way to test for Mers-CoV is to perform a throat and nasal swab and test for it in a lab."
Mers-CoV can be transmitted from person to person, Dr Al Jalahma said, but it is far less contagious than other diseases like H1N1 (swine flu).
In Bahrain alone there have been 400 suspected cases of the virus since 2012, but no one has tested positive yet.
"Mers-CoV is not a very contagious disease - there have been cases of people living in the same house with someone that has it, who have not got it - only the ones with prolonged contact," said Dr Al Jalahma.
"Even the World Health Organisation (WHO) has not issued any alerts - during Haj there were mass gatherings, but there were no recorded cases of it spreading - and with this in mind the WHO hasn't sent out an alert to stay away from crowded areas or anything like that.
"But we are ready to deal with and handle any cases that do come to Bahrain."
Symptoms of Mers-CoV include extreme difficulty breathing and severe flu-like symptoms that can lead to hospitalisation and - in more than a third of cases - death.
There is no known vaccination for the virus and with more than 200,000 people crossing the King Fahad Causeway every week, some commuters fear that they will catch it.
"To be honest it is kind of scary," said DLPS sales and marketing manager Adnan Kashmiri, who commutes to Saudi Arabia daily.
"In the beginning it was reported in Al Ahsa in the Eastern Province and now it's in the west, in Jeddah - so it could mean that it is travelling.
"I am sure that if there were some concerns of the spread the government would take action in Saudi or Bahrain and considering that there are thousands of people travelling on the causeway every day it would be irresponsible for them not to. But even if it did spread to Khobar or the surrounding areas I would still go to work."
Others, like 34-year-old Bahraini architect Basel, fear that they may bring back the virus and infect their loved ones.
"I respond the same way around any sickness - I try to keep my distance from people with the flu and wash my hands if I come in contact with someone I know is sick, that sort of thing," he said. "But I am more scared for my child - I don't want to bring this back and infect my one-year-old."
Bahraini commuter Ali Ghulam Murteaza, 35, said the "media hype" around the virus had made him more self-conscious about his behaviour. "It just started to hit me that it could be serious," he said.
"And what is scary is that I smoke sheesha, which I am sure can spread Mers-CoV, so I stopped smoking sheesha in Saudi now."
The GDN reported on Monday that His Royal Highness Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa ordered stronger precautionary measures as he chaired the weekly Cabinet meeting. The Premier instructed authorities to do whatever necessary to protect public health. – TradeArabia News Service