Thailand has been struck by the incurable Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus. On Thursday, June 18, Public Health Minister Rajata Rajatanavin confirmed that one person has been positively identified as having the virus. This virus is so far incurable because big pharmaceutical companies stand to make little to no money on developing a cure that affects a few people, compared to developing cures for widespread diseases and viruses. Only 24 individuals have died to date due to MERS and 166 have been infected. Although most people believe that all loss of life is tragic, when it comes to spending billions of dollars and time on research, the tragedy toll is far from the necessary threshold to convince pharmaceutical companies to begin looking for a cure.
Thailand is the twenty-sixth country with an identified incidence of MERS since 2012. The largest challenge for countries that have cases of MERS is that the symptoms of the virus are similar to those of the flu so it takes a long time to properly identify the virus. In Thailand’s case, it took four days to identify the one infected individual. There were 24 deaths in South Korea and 5,930 were quarantined due to MERS.
Unlike Ebola, which is transferred by blood, MERS is transferred by droplets of saliva and mucus that are spread through coughing or sneezing. MERS is in the same virus family as SARS and prompts the same concerns. Additionally, the respiratory method of contagion gives way to fear because it makes the disease far easier to spread, similarly to the movie Contagion that seeks to stop a virus that is airborne. MERS starts with flu-like symptoms and then attacks the respiratory system by creating an inability to breathe which forces organ failures, septic shock, and eventual death. Unlike with Ebola, which can be obtained from five strains, MERS can only be obtained from a single virus. Because there is no cure for MERS, the only way to purge the system of the virus is by dialysis and blood transfusions to rid the body of traces of the virus.
In addition to the death toll, South Korea and possibly more nations will be heavily affected where it hurts the most, and that is their bottom line. Over 100,000 visits to South Korea have been cancelled since the MERS outbreak. A cancellation of tourism to Thailand at the beginning of the summer break would be devastating because of its rising popularity as a travel destination.
The response from Thailand has been to quarantine 59 individuals. Immediately authorities began looking for other individuals that were on the same flight as the infected man. The patient was a 75-year-old man who had traveled from Oman into the Bangkok airport after seeking a cure for a heart condition. After his travels, the man showed shortness of breath and difficulties breathing, which he and his family at first attributed to his heart condition. The spread of the incurable MERS virus could be disheartening to the nation. There have been no Americans yet affected by the current string of contagion, yet two cases occurred in the United States in 2014. In order to prevent diseases and viruses that are transferred through mucus and saliva, individuals can preemptively wear facemasks that are growing in popularity in Asia.
Written by Olivia Uribe-Mutal
CNN – Thailand confirms its first case of MERS, outbreak ‘leveled off’ in South Korea
Time – First Case of MERS Confirmed in Thailand, 59 People Remain Under Observation
Health Line – MERS in South Korea: Will the Disease Spread Like Ebola Did in Africa?
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