As MERS Spreads, Gov’t Says It’s Prepared

Following the first case of the potentially deadly Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) being confirmed in Thailand on Thursday, government officials in Cambodia said entry points into the country were already equipped to prevent the disease from spreading here.

On Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a statement urging Southeast Asian countries to “step-up” efforts to prevent the spread of MERS—a viral respiratory disease first detected in Saudi Arabia in 2012, which late last month spread to South Korea and has since killed 24 people there. 

Ly Sovann, director of the Health Ministry’s department of communicable disease control, said Cambodia was prepared to prevent the spread of the virus.

“We have expected cases of MERS to come to Cambodia since 2012 and we are ready to respond to it,” Dr. Sovann said.

“We have screening procedures and trained staff in Phnom Penh International Airport, Siem Reap International Airport, Poipet and Bavet [international border crossings],” he added.

“Rapid response teams are also available at provincial, district and commune level.”

Since 2012, MERS has infected 1,333 people, according to the WHO, with common symptoms including fever, coughing and shortness of breath.

Sim Sam Ath, chief of immigration police at the Poipet border checkpoint, said there were about 20 health officials working there to check some 800 foreigners who cross the border each day, along with some 1,000 Cambodians who go back and forth across the border for work.

“Since the Ebola outbreak, about 20 health officials began working here to check travelers when they cross the border,” he said. “They have not been ordered to screen for MERS yet but I think they can do it.”

Vicky Houssiere, communication officer for the WHO in Cambodia, said officials should move forward by alerting hospitals, checkpoints and travelers about the respiratory disease.

“There are over 52 points of entry with Thailand. We must inform the points of entry but we cannot stop people from traveling, so the important thing is to inform the travelers of the symptoms,” she said.

“It is time to alert hospitals and have them prepare isolation rooms.”

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