Thailand has confirmed its first case of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, making it the fifth country in Asia to contract the disease.

In a news conference, Public Health Minister Rajata Rajatanavin said that the country's first case was a 75-year-old businessman from Oman who had flown into Thailand to receive treatment for a medical condition. Lab tests confirmed that the man does indeed have the MERS virus, prompting monitoring for people who may have come into contact with the patient. Included are three of the man's family members who had traveled with him to Thailand.

After testing positive for MERS, the man was moved to Nonthaburi province's Bamrasnaradura Infectious Diseases Institute located in the outskirts of Thailand's capital.

MERS first broke out in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Since then, the virus, a member of the same family of coronaviruses that triggered the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak in China in 2003, has infected over 1,000 people, more than 450 of which have died.

Outside of the Middle East, South Korea holds the record for the biggest MERS outbreak, with 165 people infected, 23 dead and 6,700 under quarantine. However, the outbreak appears to be slowing down in the country, with new cases dropping to single digits each day.

The MERS outbreak in South Korea started from a 68-year-old man who had contracted the virus while traveling back from Bahrain. He had passed through Qatar as he was returning to South Korea and was not immediately treated because despite exhibiting symptoms of MERS, he did not disclose his recent travel to the Middle East.

MERS symptoms are similar to what other respiratory conditions have so it's easy to disregard them. However, anyone experiencing fevers, coughs and shortness and have just traveled to the Middle East or come into contact with one who had been to the Middle East should immediately seek medical attention. Those with compromised immune systems are also likeliest to contract infections.

There is no vaccine to prevent MERS nor is there treatment to cure it so the best thing to do is to avoid getting infected with the virus in the first place by making a habit of frequently washing hands with soap and water. Treatment for anyone diagnosed with MERS is simply for treating symptoms and supporting recovery.

Aside from Thailand and South Korea, China, Malaysia, China and the Philippines also registered MERS cases in Asia.

Photo: Claus Rebler | Flickr

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