Saudi Arabia’s Health Ministry now claims a sum of 339 confirmed cases of MERS or Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome since 2012, and 102 confirmed deaths in total. As more news comes to light, scenes of the Hollywood thriller Contagion come to the forefront. As MERS cases in Saudi Arabia and the Arabian Peninsula increase, some are beginning to ask if it is a sign of a contagion effect.
MERS is a viral respiratory illness that belongs under the coronavirus umbrella, which includes the common cold and SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, which has killed more than 800 people on a global scale, first appearing in China in 2002. The symptoms of MERS include fever, cough, pneumonia, and shortness of breath with no known cure or identified route of transmission.
MERS has so far been linked to six countries near the Arabian Peninsula including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and most recently Egypt. The Egyptian authorities discovered the country’s first confirmed infection. The carrier was an engineer in his mid-twenties who returned from Saudi Arabia. Disinfectants, masks, and sanitizers are in high demand while hospitals in Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dammam have formed MERS treatment centers to fight the infections. These three health centers can accommodate 146 people in intensive care.
As the MERS disease kills approximately 33 percent of those who come in to contact with it, Saudi Arabian parents are not taking any chances, and many are now keeping their children home from school due to the surge in outbreaks. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is responding to growing public concern, replacing the health minister just last week and inviting five leading international vaccine makers to Saudi in hopes of developing a MERS vaccine. The spike in confirmed infections makes travel and tourism to Saudi Arabia worrisome, especially when a large portion of those infected are healthcare workers.
Saudi Arabia will soon be the host for travelers from all over the world making religious pilgrimages including Ramadan in July and the annual Hajj in October. Ramadan is a time when Muslims around the world focus on prayer, fasting, giving to charity, and religious devotion to the Prophet Muhammad. Hajj is the largest gathering of Islamic people of the year. It is a pilgrimage to Mecca that the Muslim people must take at least once in their lifetime if they are able to do so, according to the five pillars of Islam. This is done to demonstrate the unity of the Muslim people and their submission to Allah or God.
As these pilgrimages attract millions of worshippers, the potential for a contagion effect rooted in Saudi Arabia is quite terrifying should the Center for Disease Control (CDC), not gain a better understanding of the MERS virus by this time. As for now the CDC is partnering with health departments, hospitals, and researchers in order to learn more about the illusive MERS virus in hopes of finding a way to contain the Saudi Arabia infections. This includes investigating the source, the symptoms, and the present cases in order to provide citizens and travelers with the most current information.
By Amiya Moretta