Asia-Pacific, Science & Tech

The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is viral respiratory illness first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. It is caused by a coronavirus called MERS-CoV. Most people who have been confirmed to have MERS-CoV infection developed severe acute respiratory illness. They had fever, cough, and shortness of breath. About 30% of these people died.

So far, all the cases have been linked to six countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula. This virus has spread from ill people to others through close contact. However, the virus has not shown to spread in a sustained way in communities. The situation is still evolving.

MERS can spread from person to person, but officials believe that happens only after close contact. Mesecar said officials haven’t yet been able to define exactly what close contact means, saying they do know someone sitting in the front of a plane doesn’t have to worry about catching it from someone in the back of the plane. That is the reason the following story is so difficult for doctors to understand.

An American healthcare worker from Indian was working in the Middle East seemed to have been infected on a plane flying back to the United States. Upon his return to the United States he was immediately hospitalized. His symptoms were a fever, cough and shortness of breath. The hospital officials have already declared that they will not be giving daily updates but have since confirmed that the man’s condition was improving daily and most recently said that he is listed in good condition.

J. Eric Dietz, director of Purdue Homeland Security Institute and the former executive director of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, said the smartest thing people worried about MERS can do is take routine precautions, such as washing hand regularly and avoiding others who are sick.

“If you have to provide caregiving for somebody when they’re sick, then step up the hand-washing,” he said. “Wipe down surfaces with anti-bacterial or chlorine wipes to try to make sure the contact hazard isn’t quite so severe.” It seems like such an easy fix, so why is MERS seemingly such a threat?

So far, 107 people have been killed by the condition, with at least 345 infected, according to the World Health Organization. However, 140 of those cases have been reported since the beginning of April. The virus has been circulating the Middle East for at least two years. It is a coronavirus similar to SARS, the respiratory infection which caused panic in 2003, in particular in China and the Far East, where it killed more than 700 people.

Mers causes a fever and a cough, but the effect can vary dramatically, with a high mortality rate in some people, but a majority testing positive with minor symptoms or none at all. Although it has been identified in bats and camels, from which it may have originated, in most of the cases identified it was passed from human to human.

The infected person in Indiana is being kept in isolation in hospital.

“We can break the chain of transmission in this case through focused efforts here and abroad,” said Dr Tom Frieden, the director of the CDC.

Health officials do not yet know if others have been infected, but they are trying to get in touch with everyone who may have come in contact with the patient — including people on the plane to Chicago. The incubation period is of about five days and some people don’t develop symptoms, said Anne Schuchat, assistant surgeon general and director of CDC’s National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases, during the conference call. Middle aged people are most at risk, but children and the elderly can also become infected, the CDC said. “There is a very active investigation, and the details are still being worked out,” Schuchat said, adding that “we have seen about a third of [people infected with MERS] die from the virus” since 2012. She reminded the press, however, that “the first case of MERS in the US represents a very low risk to the public.”

But with such little knowledge of the disease, who knows how quickly it could spread and get to epidemic levels? There have been increases all over the world, and it seems that news cases are reported in new countries regularly. The concern some have is what is the disease were to lie dormant, then suddenly spread quickly? Sure the UK and the USA have only reported their first instances, but as the CDC said they really don’t yet know how many are infected. What if the disease lies dormant for 4-5 months before manifesting symptoms?

We are told by officials that the threat and risk are relatively low, but in the same breath they admit they know nothing about it, or even how many people might have it. As with any health issues be aware of what the symptoms are and if you suspect anything take action. Most importantly is keeping things clean is the best defense, wash your hands a few extra times per day and clean your working surfaces a bit, better safe than sorry.

About Peter Mossack

Peter is the CEO of Kinstream Media, and he manages the editorial board and day-to-day operations as the publisher of CrowdH. He’s a tech and news junkie, and an avid social media analyst who’s always on the lookout for new stories to cover. He has been an entrepreneur for the past 20 years and he’s now dedicated to change the news, and the world!

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