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WHO reports MERS case numbers receding

News comes as Bangladesh reports first case of MERS, picked up via Abu Dhabi
World Health Organization assistant director-general for health security Keiji Fukuda in Geneva (AFP)

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has reported that the surge in incidents of the Middle East Respiratory System (MERS) coronavirus has receded, but that pilgrims to the Hajj in Saudi Arabia should be vigilant.

The news comes shortly after Bangladesh reported its first case of the disease, after a Bangladeshi-born US resident was admitted to hospital days after returning to the country via Abu Dhabi.

Mahmudur Rahman, the director of the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, told AFP that the condition of the unidentified 53-year-old man had improved but he was still in intensive care in a Dhaka clinic,

"He is Bangladesh-born but lives in the US. He came to the country on June 4 and became sick two days later. Most probably he contracted the virus during the three hours at Abu Dhabi airport or in the plane," he said.

"After a series of tests we got confirmation yesterday that he was suffering from MERS coronavirus."

In spite of this, the WHO has reported that overall, the problem was not accelerating.

"The upsurge in cases that began in April has now decreased and there is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission in communities," it said in a statement.

However, "the situation continues to be of concern, especially given the anticipated increase in travel to Saudi Arabia related to Umrah, Ramadan and the Hajj," the UN health agency said.

Millions of Muslims will travel to Mecca in Saudi Arabia in October for the annual Hajj, the pilgrimage which all Muslims must make at least once in their lives.

Saudi Arabia has already experienced 282 deaths from the disease and there have been fears that the pilgrimage could provide a fertile breeding ground for the virus.

Many Muslims also travel, in smaller numbers than the Hajj, to Mecca during the holy month of Ramadan.

David Heymann, a professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said it was vital to put in place measures to protect health workers and hospital patients from infection by someone with the MERS virus.

"Health workers are at great risk from emerging infections and can then unintentionally infect other patients and contacts including family members if hospital infection control measures are not in place or not being respected," Heymann said in comments reported by the Science Media Centre in London.

So far the virus has claimed the lives of over 300 people worldwide and is thought to have been originally spread from infected camels.

On Tuesday, Dubai announced it was planning to test 1000 camels for the disease, according to the Khaleej Times.