Reuters News Service just announced two more new cases and another death from the deadly MERS virus. Could MERS be the next global pandemic? The 3 new cases were headline news in the Arab online news publication Arabyia.
Arabyia reported, “Spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said the Saudi health ministry had informed the UN agency of three new laboratory-confirmed cases, one of them fatal, and the death of a patient already diagnosed with the disease. “Globally, from September 2012 to date, WHO has been informed of a total of 58 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection with MERS-CoV, including 33 deaths,” Chaib told reporters.”
Arabyia cautioned, “Health officials have expressed concern about the high proportion of deaths relative to cases, warning that MERS could spark a new global crisis if it mutates into a form that spreads more easily.”
Travelers who carried the virus to France, Germany, Italy and Great Britain facilitated the spread of the deadly virus. Persons infected with MERS have been found in Tunisia, The United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Jordon.
Arabyia posted the WHO country of infection information.
- WHO logs cases by country of infection, rather than of death, and its Saudi toll includes one individual who died in Britain.
- One person has died in France after being infected in Dubai, and a patient died in Munich, Germany who was transferred there after first being treated in Abu Dhabi.
- There have also been two cases in Jordan, both of them fatal. Qatar has seen two, with those patients treated in Britain and Germany.
- Two patients caught the disease in Britain from a person who had been to the Middle East, one of whom died.
- Tunisia has seen two non-fatal cases and Italy two — one of whom caught the virus in Jordan and gave it to a contact in Italy.
- France has recorded one infection, a man who is thought to have caught the disease while sharing a hospital room with the deceased patient who had got it in Dubai.
This week the World Health Organization (WHO) strongly urged health workers around the world to be on high alert for symptoms of the respiratory syndrome conronavirus (MERS). Manifesting first in the Middle East, the deadly virus has the potential to cause a global pandemic: a sweeping epidemic of infection spread my human contact that can spread across regions, countries and potential around the world.
The United Nations, upon issuing a new and long-awaited guide to countries on influenza pandemic noted that the world is also in the same “alert phase” for two other human strains of bird flu: H5N1, first isolated more than a decade ago and H7N9 detected in March 2013 in China.
Andrew Harper, WHO special advisor for health security and the environment, told reporters, “We are trying to find out as much as we can and we are concerned about these (three) viruses,”
The new United Nations guide is a compendium of lessons learned from the 2009-2010 pandemic of H1Ni, also known as swine flu. This nasty virus killed an estimated 200,000 people.
Speaking of MERS, the World Health Organization noted, “International concern about these infections is high, because it is possible for this virus to move around the world. There have been now several examples where the virus has moved from one country to another through travelers.” MERS causes fever, hacking cough, chest pain and shortness of breath. The virus can lead to pneumonia amongst high-risk persons. Everyone is at risk: MERS shows no mercy.
WHO notes, “Consequently, all countries in the world need to ensure that their healthcare workers are aware of the virus and the disease it can cause and that, when unexplained cases of pneumonia are identified, MERS-CoV should be considered.”
A distant relative of the SARS virus that evidenced in Saudi Arabia in 2012, MERS-coronavis has been confirmed in 56 patients around the world: 33 have died. Out of these 56 cases to date, 46 occurred in Saudi Arabia: the majority isolated at a hospital in al-Ahsa province in the eastern region of the country.
The newly published Reuter’s report state, “It is a distant relative of the virus that triggered the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that swept the world in late 2003 and killed 775 people.”
MERS-coronavirus, a distant relative of SARS that emerged in Saudi Arabia last year, has been confirmed in 58 people worldwide, killing 31 of them. 46 cases occurred in Saudi Arabia, many in a hospital in the eastern province of al-Ahsa.
“The overall number of cases is limited but the virus causes death in about 60 percent of patients,” the WHO advised. “So far, about 75 percent of the cases in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have been in men and most have occurred in people with one or more major chronic conditions.”
The outbreak escalates. On June 12, 2013 Arabyia reported, “France has had two confirmed cases of MERS to date, one of them fatal. The man who died, in the northern town of Lille last month, was 65 and had recently returned from Dubai. He is believed to have infected a patient who was sharing a hospital room with him before he was diagnosed. The second man is still in hospital. The health ministry said there had since been 50 suspected cases of MERS in France but they had all proven to be false alarms. In the latest scare, two men were reported to have been hospitalized in the town of Tours southwest of Paris on Tuesday. The virus was quickly ruled out as an explanation for the symptoms of one of them and tests cleared the other one.”
The World Health Organization has named the scary virus the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV).
Today Medical News Today advised, “WHO and the Saudi Health Ministry are becoming concerned at what the months of July/August might bring. Ramadan, a Muslim month of fasting during daylight hours, starts on July 9th this year.
Towards the end of Ramadan, approximately two million pilgrims are expected from all over the world to visit the holy sites of Saudi Arabia.
Every Muslim’s aim is to visit the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, at least once during their lifetime. This pilgrimage is called Umrah and can be done at any time of year. A significant proportion of Umrah pilgrims come during the last ten days of Ramadan.
With the MERS-CoV circulating in the country, and with a death rate of approximately 60%, experts wonder what will happen when two million people crowd together?. How many will become ill? How many could die? Could this be the start of a serious worldwide spread of this new SARS-like coronavirus when pilgrims fly back home?”
In spite of intensive study and research, the source of the MERS virus remains a mystery. The World Health Organization advises, “All countries in the Middle East should urgently intensify disease surveillance to detect any MERS infections.” Within the last hour, Reuters News Service reported that another person in Saudi Arabia has died from the mysterious virus which scientists feel originated in bats.
Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan of the United Nation’s World Health Organization calls the MERS virus a “threat to the entire world.” Dr. Chan stated, “It is not a problem that any single affected country can keep to itself or manage all by itself,” she said. “We do not know where the virus hides in nature. We do not know how people are getting infected. Until we answer these questions, we are empty-handed when it comes to prevention. These are alarm bells. And we must respond.”
Medical experts strongly advise travelers journeying on the annual haj pilgrimage in October to take all necessary precautions. The annual pilgrimage draws millions of Muslim to Saudi Arabia every autumn.
By: Marlene Affeld
Medical News Today
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