This week the World Health Organization (WHO) strongly urged health workers around the world to be on high alert for symptoms of the respiratory syndrome conronavirus (MERS). Manifesting first in the Middle East, the deadly virus has the potential to cause a global pandemic: a sweeping epidemic of infection spread my human contact that can spread across regions, countries and potential around the world.
The United Nations, upon issuing a new and long-awaited guide to countries on influenza pandemic noted that the world is also in the same “alert phase” for two other human strains of bird flu: H5N1, first isolated more than a decade ago and H7N9 detected in March 2013 in China.
Andrew Harper, WHO special advisor for health security and the environment, told reporters, “We are trying to find out as much as we can and we are concerned about these (three) viruses,”
The new United Nations guide is a compendium of lessons learned from the 2009-2010 pandemic of H1Ni, also known as swine flu. This nasty virus killed an estimated 200,000 people.
Speaking of MERS, the World Health Organization noted, “International concern about these infections is high, because it is possible for this virus to move around the world. There have been now several examples where the virus has moved from one country to another through travelers.” MERS causes fever, hacking cough, chest pain and shortness of breath. The virus can lead to pneumonia amongst high-risk persons. Everyone is at risk: MERS shows no mercy.
Travelers who carried the virus to France, Germany, Italy and Great Britain facilitated the spread of the deadly virus. Persons infected with MERS have been found in Tunisia, The United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Jordan.
WHO notes, “Consequently, all countries in the world need to ensure that their healthcare workers are aware of the virus and the disease it can cause and that, when unexplained cases of pneumonia are identified, MERS-CoV should be considered.”
A distant relative of the SARS virus that evidenced in Saudi Arabia in 2012, MERS-coronavis has been confirmed in 55 patients around the world: 31 have died. Out of these 55 cases to date, 40 occurred in Saudi Arabia: the majority isolated at a hospital in al-Ahsa province in the eastern region of the country.
MERS-coronavirus, a distant relative of SARS that emerged in Saudi Arabia last year, has been confirmed in 55 people worldwide, killing 31 of them. Forty cases occurred in Saudi Arabia, many in a hospital in the eastern province of al-Ahsa.
“The overall number of cases is limited but the virus causes death in about 60 percent of patients,” the WHO advised. “So far, about 75 percent of the cases in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have been in men and most have occurred in people with one or more major chronic conditions.”
In spite of intensive study and research, the source of the MERS virus remains a mystery. The World Health Organization advises, “All countries in the Middle East should urgently intensify disease surveillance to detect any MERS infections.” Within the last hour, Reuters News Service reported that another person in Saudi Arabia has died from the mysterious virus which scientists feel originated in bats.
Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan of the United Nation’s World Health Organization calls the MERS virus a “threat to the entire world.” Dr. Chan stated, “It is not a problem that any single affected country can keep to itself or manage all by itself,” she said. “We do not know where the virus hides in nature. We do not know how people are getting infected. Until we answer these questions, we are empty-handed when it comes to prevention. These are alarm bells. And we must respond.”
Medical experts strongly advise travelers journeying on the annual haj pilgrimage in October to take all necessary precautions. The annual pilgrimage draws millions of Muslim to Saudi Arabia every autumn.
By: Marlene Affeld
Saudi Arabia says one more dead from MERS coronavirus