GENEVA, June 10 (Xinhua) -- There is no evidence of widespread person-to-person transmission of the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), the World Health Organization (WHO) said Monday after experts concluded investigations in Saudi Arabia.
Where it has been suspected that the virus has been transmitted from person to person, it appears that there had been close contact between somebody who was sick and another person: a family member, a fellow patient or a health care worker, the WHO said.
A joint mission of the Saudi Arabia and the WHO met in Riyadh between June 4 and 9 to assess the situation of the new coronavirus in the country.
The WHO said that the first documented cases of MERS occurred in Jordan in early 2012. Globally, to date there has been 55 cases confirmed by laboratory testing, including 31 deaths.
Of these, 40 have occurred in Saudi Arabia, and the rest have been reported from other countries in the Middle East, including Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, from Tunisia in North Africa, and from France, Germany, Italy and Britain in Europe, according to the WHO.
The mission found out that so far, about 75 percent of the cases in Saudi Arabia have been in men and most have occurred in people with one or more major chronic conditions.
It also found out that many fewer infections with MERS-CoV have been reported in health care workers in the country than might have been expected on the basis of the previous experience of SARS. During the SARS epidemic, health care workers were at high risk of infection.
The mission said that although the reason why fewer health care workers have been infected with MERS-CoV is not clear, it could be that improvements in infection control that were made after the outbreak of SARS have made a significant difference.
It concluded that the country has done an excellent job in investigating and controlling the outbreaks.
There appears to be three main epidemiological patterns of the virus and the first one is sporadic cases occurring in communities, it said.
"At present, we do not know the source or how these people became infected," said the mission.
The other two patterns are clusters of infections occurring in families, and clusters of infections in health care facilities.
It also said that treatment is primarily supportive and there are no convincing data that the use of potent antiviral agents, such as ribavirin and interferon, brings any benefit. The use of steroids in high doses should be avoided.
The WHO urged all countries to ensure that their health care workers are aware of the virus and the disease it can cause and that when unexplained cases of pneumonia are identified, MERS CoV should be considered, adding that if cases of MERS CoV are found, they should be reported to WHO.