Thursday, June 13, 2013

Global Impact: Weekly Update--Emerging Disease Called MERS-CoV, High Mortality Rate

According to both the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, both of which offer daily updates on their websites, a new disease called MERS-CoV is continuing to spread, albeit slowly.

Recent reports suggest that MERS-CoV has a mortality rate of 60+% and can be spread from person-to-person. To date, 30 people have died from the strain.

Thus far, most of the victims have come from Saudi Arabia, where many residents are wearing face masks.

Known officially as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), the disease is a coronavirus, which is the same kind of virus that causes the common cold. According to reports, it is spread just as easily and has been found in several countries including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Tunisia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. In Europe, cases have been reported in England, France, and Germany.

Doctors think it could be related to SARS, a deadly disease that spread globally, but has not been detected since 2004. New cases are being identified daily, but so far, the number remains low.

MERS-CoV leads to symptoms that are similar to the common cold, with fever, cough, and shortness of breath. However, victims may also die.

COMMENT: It is rare that a disease emerges with both high lethality and ease of infection. Scientists are concerned that MERS-CoV could be such a disease. The world will soon see if cases continue to be reported. 
One fear is that many of the sick will confuse their symptoms with the common cold and not seek treatment, meanwhile spreading the deadly virus to others. In such a case, a spike in incidents should occur. So far, this has not been observed.

That lack of observation suggest the disease may not be as lethal as feared, or it may be confined to a small number of victims.

For now, people who have traveled recently to the Middle East, where the virus is suspected to have originated, are encouraged to inform healthcare providers if they show signs of illness.

Medical facilities are also being encouraged to obtain samples and forward them to the CDC if any suspicious deaths occur that could be related to MERS-CoV.

Travelers are asked to carry and use hand sanitizer, to avoid contact with sick persons, and to follow common sense procedures. Vaccines should be up to date prior to any travel.

If persons are sick, they are advised to cover their coughs and sneezes, to use disposable tissues, and to avoid contact with others. Sick persons should contact their doctor if their symptoms worsen or are prolonged beyond those normally associated with the common cold.

Doctors are particularly warned to be on watch for anyone who develops acute lower respiratory illness within 10 days of travel from the Middle East.

There are no official warnings or restrictions in place at this time, but authorities are keeping a close watch on the situation.