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Public health and animal health experts review knowledge on MERS-CoV

Paris, 8 August 2014 - The OIE convened a high level scientific expert Ad hoc Group meeting on Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) infection in animals from 15 to 17 July in its Headquarters in Paris, in order to summarise the latest scientific data available and to provide guidance and recommendations to prevent and control the disease at the human-animal interface. The meeting welcomed public health and animal health experts from different countries.

MERS-CoV was first identified in humans in April 2012, causing a severe respiratory disease. Current outbreak investigations suggest that camels could be a source of human infections. Nevertheless, the exact route of transmission from camels to humans remains unclear.

Dr Bernard Vallat, Director General of the OIE, highlighted the importance of MERS-CoV due to its public health impact. He explained that since the apparition of the disease, the OIE had been in permanent consultation with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations on this topic.

The Group exchanged their views on the current state of knowledge about MERS-CoV infection in humans and animals, and scientific data on the performance of diagnostic tests. To date, accurate serology and Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests exist.

The criteria of surveillance of the disease in camels and other animal species were discussed, based on the current epidemiologic findings. The experts insisted on the fact that further evidence from epidemiologic studies is needed to better understand the behaviour of MERS-CoV infections in animals. They identified areas of priority for research studies in animals and collection of scientific data which will assist the development of appropriate animal health management measures and, when relevant, limit potential for further human infections.
The establishment of an OIE Reference Centre with expertise in MERS-CoV has been recommended in supporting further disease surveillance and research, as well as providing technical advice to the OIE Member Countries.

After proceeding to a science-based evaluation, the Group concluded that MERS-CoV in camels did not meet the criteria to figure in the OIE listed diseases. However, MERS-CoV is a serious public health concern with zoonotic potential and infection in animals must be reported to the OIE as an emerging disease.

The OIE will continue to work in close collaboration with the WHO and the public health sector and regularly update guidance to its Members and the public on this emerging disease.

Following the meeting, the OIE Q&A on MERS-CoV was updated reflecting the latest scientific knowledge. The new version is accessible here.