Saudi Arabia MER Virus Death Toll Climbing

Saudi Arabia

The death toll in Saudi Arabia from the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus continues to rise and now surpasses 87 people. The coronavirus first appeared in the eastern region of the kingdom. It is believed that the virus was passed from camels to humans. The worst affected city is Jeddah, where 21 cases have been reported. The King Fahd Hospital was closed temporarily earlier this month after a number of infections were reported and there are fears that the economy could be negatively affected if MERS continue to spread.

A recent statement on the Ministry of Health website indicates that since the virus appeared in September 2012, there have been almost 300 reported cases, but there appears to be some doubt among the citizens who believe that the risk is more serious than what they have been told. The Saudi Arabia government has held press conferences and have told the media to report only cases that have been officially confirmed. However, with the recent spike in cases seen in Jeddah, which is a financial hub of the kingdom, fears to continue to rise that the virus may have mutated and can now be passed among humans much easier.

Social media, such as Twitter, is abuzz with remarks, as many of the infected in Jeddah were working in the health care industry, which suggests that precautions in the hospitals were inadequate.  The government is being urged to declare a state of emergency. The health minister, Abdullah al-Rabeeah, was fired a few days ago after stating that he did not know why there was a spike in the number of infections. There are also reports that four doctors, also at the King Fahd Hospital, resigned after refusing to treat MERS patients because of fear of being infected.

As the Saudi Arabian MERS Virus death toll continues to climb,officials are also struggling to allay fears that the virus can be exported to other countries, as world travel to and from the region continues. The region appears to be on alert, as waiters at a popular restaurant named Nakheel have now donned face masks, and diners appear to be reluctant to share the shisha, or hookah, as it is also known. The guests at weddings are refusing to kiss each other as is common, while businessmen are also refusing to shake hands. The WHO recently announced that it had offered to send some international experts to investigate the risks, and changes in the patterns observed in transmission. Amid the anxiety, the Saudi Arabia officials say that they have contacted vaccine makers, and are rushing to create a vaccine.

The MERS virus is less infectious than Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which originated from Asia in 2003, and affected more than 8,000.  SARS was eventually responsible for the fatalities of more than nine percent of those who were infected. The WHO has recently updated the risk assessment and states that some caution must be exercised when people are returning from the Middle East.

As the number of certified infections in Saudi Arabia and the death toll of the MERS virus continues to skyrocket, there have been cases reported in other countries, such as the Philippines, Greece and Malaysia, in the past two weeks. WHO warns that the coronavirus may begin appearing in other parts of the globe.

Written by Dale Davidson


Vancouver Sun
the Economist