What deadly viruses could come on a direct flight to New Zealand?

4 October 2014

While the lack of direct flights from West Africa makes the chances of person infected with Ebola flying into New Zealand very unlikely – the risk is always there that another infectious and deadly viruses may one day arrive at an ED or general practice near you. 

Here are some of the possible candidates:

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome  (MERS) coronavirus

MERS causes a severe acute respiratory illness with fever, cough and shortness of breath. It was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012, and to date, all cases have been linked to nine countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula. Travelers have brought the disease home to 12 non-Arabian countries, including UK, USA, Netherlands, and Malaysia. The latest traveler confirmed case was announced on October 2 in Austria. About 30 per cent of people confirmed to have MERS-CoV infection have died. The virus is spread from ill people to others through close contact, such as caring for or living with an infected person, but there has been no evidence of sustained spreading in community settings to date. As of late July, WHO has reported 837 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS (including healthcare workers) and at least 291 deaths related to MERS.

A new flu pandemic

The H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic had laboratory-confirmed cases across more than 214 countries or territories in the period from 2009 to 2010, with New Zealand having the flu hit communities two winters in a row. The pandemic was officially declared over on 10 August 2010, by which time there were at least 18,500 official H1N1 related deaths. WHO believes this figure is a “gross underestimate” as many pandemic deaths were not tested or were in countries with limited or no laboratory testing capacity.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome  (SARS) coronavirus

The SARS epidemic in 2003 led to 8000 cases and 774 deaths from SARS in mostly Asia and Canada. WHO says most cases of human-to-human transmission occurred in the healthcare setting, due to lack of adequate infection control precautions. In all, 1700 health care workers (HCW) were infected with SARS in 2003 – including 109 in Canada and more than a 1000 in China. WHO says implementation of appropriate infection control practices brought the global outbreak to an end. There have been no cases of SARS report in New Zealand since 2003, when 13 suspected cases were notified but none tested positive. WHO says that there are currently no areas of the world reporting transmission of SARS.