Seven new instances of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) have been confirmed in Saudi Arabia. In the last five days, up to 36 cases have been reported of the disease, which kills more than 33 percent of its victims and has no cure. The Health Ministry of Saudi Arabia has posted updated numbers on its website of the disease’s impact, reporting that 76 of the 231 people infected with MERS in the kingdom have died. MERS is a novel coronavirus much like SARS that first appeared two years ago in Saudi Arabia. Although there is no anti-viral agent or vaccine for MERS, which sickens its victims mainly with respiratory infections, health agencies worldwide and in Saudi Arabia state that the virus is not easily passed between humans and could simply die out. Warnings have been issued regarding the potential of the disease to mutate into other forms, leading those in the Middle East and around the world wondering if they are facing a new epidemic.
The official count of MERS victims could be lower than the actual. Because of various rumors of additional, unreported cases in social media during the past few weeks, Saudi Arabia’s cabinet requested that Saudi news outlets only report on cases that have been officially confirmed by the kingdom’s Health Ministry. Thirty new cases have been reported in Jeddah. Of the 30 people infected, seven have died. The capital city, Riyadh, has reported six new cases. One of those has died.
In addition to Saudi Arabia, the latest outbreak of MERS has shown up in the United Arab Emirates, which identified 12 new cases while examining those people who have had contact with infected individuals, and in Yemen, which borders Saudi Arabia. Yemen’s case of MERS is its first. Officials in the United Arab Emirates expect that the infected individuals will be cured in 10 to 14 days without any sort of treatment after being confined in hospitals. Health authorities in Malaysia have also reported that one of its citizens brought the disease back to the country after having made a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. In addition, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Tunisia have reported cases of MERS in addition to several European countries. The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is known as the birthplace of the Islam religion and is expecting an influx of pilgrims during Ramadan in July, an annual month of fasting for Islams. In addition, early October will draw millions more pilgrims to Saudi Arabia for the Haj.
In light of the news that there has been a marked increase in the number of confirmed cases of MERS in Saudi Arabia during the past two weeks, officials of the country have issued several statements meant to reassure the people that there is no reason to worry about the outbreak. Officials also point out that the number of cases confirmed does not meet the international definition of an epidemic. Authorities also stated on Sunday that experts from other nations, including the United States, and the World Health Organization are heading to the kingdom in order to aid the government in the search for a cure for the disease, which scientists believe has been common in camels for at least 20 years and could have passed to humans through contact with them. The first human case, detected in September 2012 in the Middle East, reached 200 cases in 1.5 years, making the sharp rise in infection rates over the past week concerning.
Cases of MERS worldwide remain relatively scarce, but due to the high death rate among those with the disease and the appearance of confirmed cases outside of the Middle East, public heath agencies and scientists are monitoring cases of the disease closely.
By Jennifer Pfalz