MERS and H7N9 Infectious Disease Update

It’s been a few weeks since we’ve released an emerging infectious disease update, and there have been several developments since our last post.  In general, the impact of both viruses has been less severe than expected; this might be due to the extensive precautions that were taken at the outset of the initial outbreaks.

MERS and A(H7N9) infections have stalled; however the threat of the viruses still persists and the World Health Organization is predicting both strains might regain momentum as we move towards flu season.

H7N9 and MERS Virus


Globally, since September 2012, there have been a total of 81 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection with MERS; as of July 12, 2013, 45 people have died from the virus.

The MERs virus is mainly active in the Middle East, but has been identified in 8 countries.  The Public Health Agency of Canada recently updated their disease reports that the risk to Canadians is low; however, it is still not yet known how people become infected with the MERs virus.  Canadian federal and provincial laboratories have been testing specimens and there are currently no cases in Canada to report.


New A(H7N9) infections remain low.  To date, there have been a total of 133 laboratory-confirmed cases, including 43 deaths.

There is still no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission of the virus.  However, the World Health Organization reports that until the source of the infection has been identified and controlled, that there will likely be more infections.

There are still no cases of the infection in Canada and this particular strain has not been detected in birds in Canada. The risk to Canadians remains low.

Key Alerts

  • July 4 – WHO issues new A(H7N9) assessments and guidance – available here
  • July 11 – The WHO releases an update on the MERS virus – available here

Summary, Risks, and Recommendations

In short, MERS and A(H7N9) remain a threat because doctors and scientists know very little about the two diseases and how they spread.  The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) continues to work with its national and international partners, including the WHO, to monitor and share information.  The PHAC continues to track the spread of flu illness in Canada.  Two of the agency’s personnel are currently partaking in the WHO’s working group of technical experts to review different aspects of the MERs and A(H7N9) outbreak events.

Further, research is being conducted in the agency’s national microbiology lab (NML) to determine antibodies that react against the viruses to better determine when someone is infected.  The NML is also developing and testing several vaccines to determine if they provide protection against the viruses.

Canadian health officials remind Canadians that there is very little risk of catching either virus in Canada.

No restrictions have been placed on trade or travel.


  • Total A(H7N9) confirmed cases: 133
  • Total A(H7N9) fatalities: 43
  • Total MERS confirmed cases: 81
  • Total MERS fatalities: 45

Additional Information

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