Another potentially deadly virus is spreading around the world as the Ebola outbreak wanes. MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) has killed hundreds in Saudi Arabia, and now cases of the virus have been confirmed in China and Korea besides being a continued problem in the Middle East.
MERS has only been around for less than three years, but has a fatality rate of about 36 percent. It is believed to have originated in bats, like Ebola. The bats transmitted it to camels, and from the dromedaries to humans.
China announced today that a 44-year-old man tested positive for the virus. The fear in the Chinese province of Guangdong is that the man, who traveled there from South Korea, can possibly have infected many people. During the period before his diagnosis, but when was likely to be contagious, the man through a crowded crossed a border checkpoint, traveled in a bus and stayed in a hotel. So far, however, 38 people who are believed to have come into contact with him then have not tested positive for MERS.
The man is the son of another MERS patient currently in quarantine in Hong Kong. That hospital is also treating three Korean citizens. Two of the trio were believed to have caught MERS from a man who recently traveled to Bahrain and through Qatar. In addition, reports are that 10 people in South Korea are also in the hospital or quarantine because of contact with that man.
Globally, there have been 1,135 confirmed cases of MERS, that led to at least 427 deaths, since the virus first emerged in September 2012. MERS is a coronavirus, like the common cold or SARS, for which there is no cure or vaccine. Symptoms are similar to a cold with fever, cough and shortness of breath. It often leads to pneumonia, however, and can result in severe respiratory failure.
Last Spring, fears about MERS escalated so much in Saudi Arabia that King Abdullah fired the government’s health minister, who had down played the threat. Additionally, the normally reticent to accept outside assistance Saudis asked the World Health Organization (WHO) to help them combat the virus.
The WHO has recommended travelers to or from the Middle East should be extra vigilant for any signs of a respiratory illness. Last year, when MERS appeared to be spiraling out of control in Saudi Arabia, the WHO worked with the Saudi government to issue guidelines last Spring for Ramadan and the typical multi-millions of visitors drawn to Saudi Arabia for the annual pilgrimages to Haj and Umrah. Last year, the Saudis even urged anyone pregnant, elderly or very young to not participate in the religious excursion.
This year, the month of Ramadan falls in June, so they are being extra vigilant to avoid a bigger flareup and threat within the Middle East. Additionally, with people traveling from the Middle East now for other reasons, such as the people who have gotten ill from the MERS virus from the person who traveling from China and North, they urge caution for those traveling to and form Saudi Arabia and other region countries.
By Dyanne Weiss
CBC News: China’s first confirmed MERS case arrived from Korea
Newsweek: China Monitoring 200 People for Potential MERS Infections
Gulf Times: MERS infects 10 in South Korea but no virus mutation
World Health Organization: Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV)