Following an outbreak in South Korea of a deadly respiratory disease which has killed three people and infected 36 in that country since late last month, Cambodian health officials on Friday asked travelers coming from infected regions to be vigilant to avoid its spread here.
Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is a viral respiratory disease that was first detected in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and has since killed 442 people and infected 1,179, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The ways in which MERS is spread are still poorly understood.
“If you have developed the following symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath, either during travel or after your return from the Middle East countries and/or the Republic of Korea please go to see a doctor immediately,” said a statement released by the Health Ministry and WHO on Friday.
Ly Sovann, director of the Health Ministry’s department of communicable disease control, said health providers and employees at both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap airports have been trained to identify and isolate any potential cases of MERS.
“Because we have the direct flights from [South] Korea and Cambodia, that is why we are concerned. We are very worried about this, we have to be highly vigilant,” Dr. Sovann said.
According to Dr. Sovann, there are six hospitals prepared to treat diseases like MERS, including Calmette Hospital and the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital in Phnom Penh, as well as provincial referral hospitals in Kampong Cham, Siem Reap, Kampot and Stung Treng.
“As you know in Cambodia we have deferred other outbreaks in the past; we have experience preventing the spread of diseases,” he said.
Vicky Houssiere, communication officer for the WHO, said the likelihood of MERS spreading to Cambodia was not especially high.
“It’s a possibility like any other country, [but] there is no more likelihood in Cambodia than any other country,” she said. “The more you have travel, the more possibility you have of the disease traveling. Diseases don’t have borders.”
Ms. Houssiere said that the disease has so far spread to 25 countries, including South Korea, China, Malaysia and the Philippines, with a fatality rate of about 36 percent.
© 2015, Maria Paula Brito. All rights reserved.