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Egypt's Red Sea ports on alert against Saudi Arabia's MERS virus

The first Egyptian confirmed to carry the virus was detected on Saturday

MENA and Ahram Online, Sunday 27 Apr 2014
Red sea
File Photo: Ships at one of Egypt's Red sea ports (Photo: AL-Ahram)
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The Red Sea Ports Authority has ordered that all travellers arriving by sea from Saudi Arabia or Jordan be examined for the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), with the first infection case in Egypt having been reported on Saturday.

"The effectiveness of quarantines [in the Safaga and Nuweiba ports] will be improved, in addition to provisions for all ambulances, medical supplies and medicines needed to counter any emergency," said authority spokesman Abdel-Rehim Mostafa.

Mostafa added that an operation room closely monitoring the arrival of travellers will be formed by early May, estimated a high season for Egyptians returning from Saudi Arabia and neighbouring Gulf countries.

Meanwhile, Ports Authority Director Hassan Fallah has also urged all returning travellers to immediately inform the authority of any suspected or infected cases.

A number of cases previously believed to be MERS infections were eventually identified by the Ministry of Health as misdiagnoses, making the Egyptian man diagnosed on Saturday the first confirmed locally detected MERS case. 

Just back from Saudi Arabia, the man underwent medical examination on Friday in Cairo's Abbassiya Fever Hospital, where he was found to have contracted the deadly respiratory virus, according to state TV.

MERS, which appeared in the Saudi kingdom in 2012, is considered a deadlier -- albeit less transmissible -- cousin of the SARS virus that erupted in Asia in 2003, killing nine percent of the 8,273 people it had infected.

The origins of the new disease are unclear, although some theories point to the possibility of an animal-to-human virus mutation. Around half of the reported infection cases have proven fatal.

Saudi Arabia, the country most severely hit by MERS, has recorded 60 deaths out of 145 infection cases since the virus' emergence in September 2012.

The World Health Organisation website states it has been notified of 182 cases of MERS infections worldwide, and 79 deaths.

Egypt's minister of health has urged citizens not to panic, saying the virus is curable and affirming that the ministry has taken all necessary measures to handle infected cases.

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