Thailand confirmed a traveler from Oman, who arrived in Bangkok in late January, tested positive for the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS CoV). The United Nations, through World Health Organization South East Asia Region Director Poonam Khetrapal Singh, was quick to caution travelers and governments in Southeast Asia about the continued risk of importing the infectious disease from countries where it still persists.

It is the second MERS case in Thailand, after another Omani traveler was diagnosed with the virus in June 2015. Health authorities are now tracking persons the 71-year-old Omani had come into contact with prior to arriving, and before being diagnosed,  to prevent contamination. The patient has since been transferred to the Bamrasnaradura Infectious Disease Institute.

Director Khetrapal Singh has written to countries to secure and double their efforts at safeguarding borders against the disease. WHO considers this a wakeup call to intensify measures for better control against the spread of the virus. He said, "Strong health systems using strict infection control measures would be the key to prevent the spread of the virus and protect healthcare workers and others."

In particular, nations' health agencies need to further enhance surveillance for severe acute respiratory infections and focus on early diagnosis. Health facilities need the means to rapidly detect new cases to effectively prevent its spread, the WHO said.

WHO is now mobilizing support for regional health ministries to escalate prevention capacities. The organization recommends extra vigilance and avoidance on areas reported to have infections for travelers.

The disease was first discovered in Saudi Arabia in 2012, sources say that there have been more than 1300 cases reported from more than 20 countries as far as South Korea where there have been 24 fatalities.

WHO Assistant Director-General, Dr. Keiji Fukuda took part in a joint mission to South Korea to confront the MERS outbreak. Fukuda mentioned “The exchange of information and experience has included the provision of detailed information about the outbreak and the control measures that have been put into place, as well as discussion of existing challenges,”

Initial references made by the joint mission stated that further development on prevention and facilities are needed in the region. Persons with respiratory symptoms should be immediately taken to these facilities for treatment. Persons with a history of travelling to the Middle East are also advised to get a checkup to ensure that they are not infected. MIMS