MERS-CoV outbreak in Republic of Korea: a wake-up call in a highly mobile world

The emergency committee for Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) held its ninth meeting on 16 June 2015 to discuss the outbreak in the Republic of Korea. The Committee concluded from the observations and findings of a recent joint mission by the Republic of Korea and WHO to investigate the spread of MERS-CoV in the country that the conditions for a "public health emergency of international concern" have not been met.

Several factors were identified as contributing to the spread of the infection, including lack of awareness among health care workers and the general public about MERS, patients' behaviour and suboptimal infection prevention and control measures in hospitals. The Committee noted, however, that the country is working hard to bring the outbreak under control.

Transmission of MERS-CoV in the Republic of Korea has been strongly associated with health care institutions. Thus, health authorities must make every possible effort to ensure that effective infection prevention and control measures are in place at all times. There is no evidence of sustained community transmission at present. 

The committee noted that genetic sequencing of viruses obtained from cases in the Republic of Korea has not shown any significant difference from viruses from the Middle East. 

Recommendations for the European Region

The Committee concluded that the outbreak in the Republic of Korea is a "wake-up call". In a highly mobile world, all countries should be prepared for possible outbreaks of this and other serious infectious diseases. 

WHO does not recommend that any travel or trade restrictions be applied and considers that screening at points of entry is unnecessary at this time. 

Raising awareness about MERS and its symptoms among people travelling to and from affected areas is good public health practice.

If reports or rumours are heard of contact with people with or suspected of having the infection who are travelling outside of the country in which they were infected, the destination countries should quickly assess the possibility of transmission.