An alternative SARS virus may be making a return. Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) was first recognized by reported deaths in September 2012.
This severe acute respiratory infection (SARI) has over a 50% mortality rate which is why it’s being called a threat to the entire world population by the World Health Organization (WHO). (1)
The latest report from WHO on June 7, 2013 stated that “The Ministry of Health in Saudi Arabia has notified WHO of an additional laboratory-confirmed case with Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV)”. (2)
The latest victim of this dangerous virus strain was an 83-year-old man who had serious health problems prior to infection. He contracted the virus on May 27, 2013 and died four days later. His death was the result of the latest outbreak that struck a health-care facility in Al-Ahsa in April 2013.
Since 2012, there have been “55 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection with MERS-CoV”. Out of those, 31 patients died. (2)
The following countries have reported MERS-CoV cases to WHO. The first number signifies the number of people infected and the second number within parentheses signifies the number of patients that died:
–> Jordan 2 (2)
–> Qatar 2 (0)
–> Saudi Arabia 40 (25)
–> United Arab Emirates (UAE) 1 (1)
–> France 2 (1)
–> Italy 3 (0)
–> Tunisia 2 (0)
–> United Kingdom 3 (2)
The cases in the UK were people who either were stricken ill while in the Middle East and were transferred to medical facilities in the UK or “returned from the Middle East and subsequently became ill”. (2)
WHO reports that in the cases of infection in France, Italy, Tunisia and the United Kingdom, there has been “limited local transmission among patients who had not been to the Middle East but had been in close contact with the laboratory-confirmed or probable cases”. (2)
Recent travelers to the Middle East that develop SARI need to be tested immediately for MERS-CoV. This requires specimens from the lower respiratory tract. Those with compromised immune systems are especially at risk as are the young and elderly.
World Health Organization (WHO) on MERS-CoV Emergence
On May 12, 2013, WHO issued a statement that the virus was caused by a “group called coronaviruses”.
The SARs virus is a member of this group, but WHO cautioned that the Novel Coronavirus was not the SARs (Severe Acute Respiratory syndrome) virus. “They are distinct from each other”. (3)
Coronaviruses are also responsible for the common cold. “MERS-CoV is different from any other coronavirus that has been previously found in people.” Symptoms of MERS included fever, cough and shortness of breath. (4)
While WHO has been aware of the infection since 2012, investigations haven’t revealed “where this virus lives”. WHO acknowledged what is known is:
“When people get infected, many of them develop severe pneumonia. What we don’t know is how often people might develop mild disease. We also know that most of the persons who have been infected so far have been older men, often with other medical conditions. We are not sure why we are seeing this pattern and if it will change over time”. (3)
Other unknowns are:
–> How are people getting infected?
–> Is it from animals?
–> Is it from contaminated surfaces?
–> Is it from other people?
WHO stated that it was not known how widespread the virus is or what regions and other countries it may have reached.
“The greatest global concern, however, is about the potential for this new virus to spread. This is partly because the virus has already caused severe disease in multiple countries, although in small numbers, and has persisted in the region since 2012.” (3)
The most baffling and troubling issue of the virus and how it spreads is that reports of different clusters in several countries “increasingly support the hypothesis that when there is close contact this novel coronavirus can transmit from person-to-person. This pattern of person-to-person transmission has remained limited to some small clusters and so far, there is no evidence that this virus has the capacity to sustain generalized transmission in communities”. (3)
The key to unraveling the mystery surrounding this infection, according to WHO:
“There are also some questions that urgently need to be answered including how are people are getting infected, and what are the main risk factors for either infection or development of severe disease. The answers to these questions hold the keys to preventing infection.” (3)
The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) statement on the Coronavirus Called “MERS-CoV” in the Arabian Peninsula doesn’t advise any changes in travel plans.
The CDC recommends US travelers monitor their health when traveling to countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula.
If you develop any symptoms of a fever and lower respiratory cough or shortness of breath, you need to immediately see a doctor. “They should tell the doctor about their recent travel.” (4)
The CDC advises preventative measures that include:
–> Wash hands often with soap and water.
–> If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
–> Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Germs spread this way.
–> Avoid close contact with sick people.
If you are traveling, make certain you are up-to-date on all of your shots. The CDC advises getting any necessary vaccinations at least 4-6 weeks prior to your travel.
Currently, “WHO does not advise special screening at points of entry with regard to this event nor does it currently recommend the application of any travel or trade restrictions.”