WHO to convene emergency committee on MERS-CoV

The emergence of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is an important challenge for all countries in the world. On 5 July 2013, reflecting the need for a global response to the continuing outbreak, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan called for the establishment of an emergency committee on MERS-CoV under the International Health Regulations (IHR).

Coinciding with this announcement, WHO Regional Director for Europe Zsuzsanna Jakab arranged a comprehensive briefing on MERS-CoV for health ministers attending the WHO European Ministerial Conference on Nutrition and Noncommunicable Diseases in the Context of Health 2020 in Vienna, Austria, to ensure the full engagement of European Member States in this global effort. WHO experts on influenza and other respiratory pathogens presented an update on the epidemiological situation and outlined global measures being taken to detect and control the disease.

Emergency committee on MERS-CoV

Convening an emergency committee is the result of growing international concern over MERS-CoV, which to date has caused a total of 79 laboratory-confirmed cases in 9 countries, including 4 in the WHO European Region: France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. Among these cases, a total of 42 deaths has been reported.

The emergency committee is made up of international experts who will provide technical advice to the WHO Director-General on the situation. It will meet on 9  July 2013 and the outcome of the meeting will be announced on the WHO headquarters web site.

Human-to-human transmission has occurred in small clusters, but sustained transmission in the community beyond these clusters has not been observed; it would represent a major change in the epidemiology and risk assessment of MERS-CoV. Establishing the emergency committee will enable WHO to receive continuing external input and advice, and to be fully prepared if the situation changes.

New updates and guidance available

WHO/Europe’s latest fortnightly summary on MERS-CoV, released on 9 July 2013, includes a list of measures that Member States can take to strengthen their capacities to detect, assess and respond to cases.

The newest addition to WHO’s series of MERS-CoV recommendations, “WHO guidelines for investigation of cases of human infection with Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV)”, was released on 5 July 2013. It provides a standardized approach that public health authorities and investigators at all levels can use to plan and conduct investigations around confirmed and probable cases of MERS-CoV. As with all WHO guidelines related to this disease, it will be updated as necessary to reflect increased understanding of MERS-CoV transmission and control.