UNITED NATIONS, May 14 (UPI) -- A panel of World Health Organization experts concluded the increase of cases in the MERS outbreak, which has killed hundreds in the Middle East, does not yet qualify as a major public health emergency.
An increase in affected cases involving the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome has been observed. However, the cases have been largely confined to hospital facility settings, and not in urban settings or in the general public.
The panel members met by teleconference for five hours Tuesday. Dr. Keiji Fukuda, WHO assistant director general for health security, said of the panel, "what they reached was a consensus that the situation had increased in seriousness and urgency but does not, at this point, constitute a public health emergency of international concern."
The virus causing MERS has been observed in 571 laboratory-confirmed cases, resulting in at least 145 deaths, Fukuda said, adding there is "no evidence yet of an increase in the transmissibility of the virus."
The overwhelming number of cases and deaths have occurred in Saudi Arabia. Yet a Saudi citizen may have passed the MERS virus on to upwards of 20 health-care workers who treated him in Florida. On Wednesday, a Florida health official said two hospital workers who became ill after treating the Saudi person tested negative for MERS.