A 29-year-old Saudi woman suffering from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome may have been contagious during a recent flight from Qatar to Austria, the World Health Organization has said.
In a statement released yesterday, WHO said the woman, who got on the airplane on Sept. 22, had an upper respiratory infection and fever before arriving in Vienna. She was tested and diagnosed with MERS after seeking treatment there.
“The Austrian health authorities assume that the patient was infectious prior to, and during the international flights. Follow-up with passengers on the flight is ongoing and personal data of the crew on the flight has been communicated to Qatar.”
Qatar Airways is the only airline that flies directly from Doha to the Austrian capital.
No one from the national carrier or Qatar’s Supreme Council of Health (SCH) was immediately available for comment.
So far, eight people in Qatar have contracted MERS, and four have died. The Gulf state had no new reported cases of the virus since November 2013.
Previously, the SCH advised Qatar residents – especially those with pre-existing conditions – to steer clear of farms and camels, after research showed a link between MERS and the animals.
The Saudi woman is currently in an Austrian hospital in stable condition. According to WHO, she had no exposure to camels or their products and no prior hospital admissions. She also had not come into contact with anyone who was diagnosed with MERS.
So far, two people she has come into close contact with been admitted to the hospital with upper respiratory symptoms, but lab tests to see if they also have contracted MERS are pending.
WHO states that there have been 853 confirmed patients with MERS, and of those, 301 deaths. The vast majority of cases have been in Saudi Arabia.
Now that the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the Gulf state has begun, WHO has urged countries to continue their careful monitoring acute respiratory infections. It has not advised any special screenings at borders, but states:
“Until more is understood about MERS-CoV, people with diabetes, renal failure, chronic lung disease, and immunocompromised persons are considered to be at high risk of severe disease from MERS‐CoV infection.
Therefore, these people should avoid close contact with animals, particularly camels, when visiting farms, markets, or barn areas where the virus is known to be potentially circulating. General hygiene measures such as regular hand washing before and after touching animals and avoiding contact with sick animals, should be adhered to.”