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Although no no cases of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) have been detected in Singapore so far, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has released an advisory for Umrah and Haj pilgrims in the lead up to Ramadan.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has reported cases of Mers infections in Saudia Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and United Arab Emirates.
Additionally, Malaysia quarantined dozens of people in a southern village last week after one of its residents became the first person to die of the respiratory illness.
Because a number of your employees or their family members might make a pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina during the Islamic fasting month, it’s important as an employer that you are aware and up to date with the latest health information on the spreading virus.
Here is the MOH’s advisory for foreign pilgram travel:
- Be vaccinated against influenza and meningitis. Persons aged 65 years and above or with chronic medical conditions should also get vaccinated pneumococcal infections.
- Pilgrims with pre-existing chronic medical conditions (e.g. diabetes, chronic bronchitis) should consult a medical practitioner before travelling to assess whether making the pilgrimage is medically advisable.
- Avoid close contact with persons suffering from acute respiratory infections.
- Avoid contact with camels and other live farm or wild animals, including not visiting camel farms. If contact has been made, thoroughly wash hands with soap.
- Observe good personal hygiene at all times, and practise frequent hand washing with soap and water, before handling food or eating, after going to toilet, or when hands are dirtied by respiratory secretions after coughing or sneezing and in particular, after direct contact with ill persons or their environment. Persons who are sick are reminded to cover their nose and mouth with tissue when sneezing or coughing, and to dispose of the tissue properly.
- Pilgrims are advised to wear masks (i.e. surgical masks) during their pilgrimage, especially when in crowded places. Adopt good food safety and hygiene practices and avoid consuming unpasteurised milk, undercooked meats, raw fruits and vegetables (unless they have been peeled), or unsafe water.
Wear a mask and seek medical attention promptly if you become unwell with fever and cough and/or breathlessness while travelling or within 2 weeks after returning to Singapore, and inform the doctor of your travel history.
4 things you need to know about Mers
1. It’s a coronavirus
The virus acts like a cold and attacks the respiratory system, but symptoms include fever and a cough and are severe, potentially leading to pneumonia and kidney failure. Gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea have also been seen.
2. It’s not known how it is spreading
Limited person-to-person transmission has been seen among people in contact with patients, despite all cases thus far being linked to six countries in the Arabian Peninsula.
Although such transmission appears to be limited, health officials are concerned about MERS because of its virulence, and is fatal in up to one-third of cases. However, the WHO and CDC have not issued any travel warnings related to MERS.
3. Camels might provide more information
In a paper published earlier this week, researchers said they had isolated the live MERS virus from two single-humped camels, known as dromedaries.
4. There is no treatments and no vaccine
Doctors can treat symptoms of MERS, such as fever or breathing difficulties, but there is no vaccine and no specific medicine which can ‘cure’ MERS.