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MERS Reported in Lebanon

May 09, 2014 10:57 AM EDT
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Lebanon has reported its first official case of the potentially fatal Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), prompting the country's health minister to order an unusual "fever screening" process to be taken up at Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also announced that it will be holding international talks next week to address growing concerns about the spreading virus.

The sometimes deadly viral infection known as MERS was identified in a Lebanese man on Thursday, marking the first MERS case to reach the country. According to the Lebanese Health Ministry, the man had recently returned from a visit to several Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia - which, alongside the United Arab Emirates, is home to the highest number of MERS outbreaks.

Much like this recent case, several other countries including the United States have also reported their own incidents of MERS infection. However, these cases have all been reportedly isolated and appropriately dealt with, limiting chances of secondary infections.

Last month the WHO urged the international community to stay vigilant for MERS symptoms, warning that as the virus became increasingly prevalent in the Arab Peninsula, it was likely to reach other countries through international travel.

Since announcing this first case or MERS infection in Lebanon of Friday, the country's health minister has order that thermal cameras be used to detect possible signs of fever among arriving passengers at Beirut's international airport, according to reports from The Associated Press.

The WHO also announced today that it would be holding an emergency meeting to discuss the implications of the spread of the MERS virus next Tuesday. While international concerns about the virus - which currently has no cure or vaccine - remain high, some experts speculate that the WHO will be reassuring the international community that the virus is not a significant threat.

A recent report from WHO investigators in Saudi Arabia argues that the increased rate of infection does not suggest an increase in the transmissibility of the virus, which is reportedly low. In light of this, the WHO has not advised any special screening points - like what has been ordered in Lebanon - nor any limitations to trade or travel.

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