Travel alert for deadly virus

Travel alert for deadly virus

WA health authorities have stepped up monitoring of a SARS-related virus that has caused more than 280 deaths overseas.

From this month, Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, or MERS-CoV, has become a notifiable dangerous infectious disease under WA's Health Act.

Although no cases have been found in Australia, a surge in infections in Saudi Arabia and the first cases in Britain and the US have raised concerns about its potential to enter Australia.

Its listing in WA means doctors and pathology laboratories have to notify authorities if anyone becomes infected.

It also gives the department the power to order public health measures such as isolation, quarantining and testing.

MERS-CoV belongs to the same family of viruses as SARS, which emerged in southern China in late 2002 and caused havoc to international travel.

This month, the Commonwealth Health Department said the number of reported cases of MERS-CoV had increased sharply in April and May.

According to the World Health Organisation, there have been 836 confirmed cases, including 288 deaths.

Affected countries in the Middle East include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Iran, Kuwait, Oman, Lebanon and Yemen.

Countries reporting cases in travellers from the Middle East include France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Britain, Malaysia, the Philippines and the US.

In a disease bulletin, the WA Health Department said though no cases of the virus had been diagnosed in Australia, many travellers from the Middle East with respiratory diseases had been investigated.

"It seems inevitable that cases will eventually be confirmed in Australia, given the frequency of travel from the Middle East region, including pilgrims returning from the Hajj and Umrah," it said.

Camels appear to have been a primary source of infection in recent cases overseas.

'It seems inevitable that cases will eventually be confirmed in Australia.' " WA Health Department