Tag Archives: MERS

MERS Reported in South Korea

Posted on in South Korea title_rule

As of 11 June 2015, 122 laboratory-confirmed cases of human infection with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) Coronavirus have been reported by the South Korean health ministry, including 10 fatalities, making it the largest outbreak of MERS outside the Arabian Peninsula. Over the past three weeks, more than 3,800 people have been placed under quarantine, 641 of whom have been released after testing negative for MERS. For those infected during either the first or the second wave of the outbreak, the virus’s maximum two week incubation period has elapsed, a fact which has caused health officials to speculate that the disease has already peaked. Whether it has or not will depend on whether the containment measures adopted by the South Korean government were able to identify, isolate and treat those who had come into contact with the disease.

First identified in humans in September 2012, MERS is a viral respiratory illness from the same family as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), the disease that struck China in 2003, infecting more than 5,300 people and killing 349 nationwide. There is no vaccine for MERS and doctors do not entirely understand how it is spread, except that it appears to be a zoonotic disease passed to humans from infected camels and bats. Most people infected with MERS become unwell quickly, experiencing fever, coughing and shortness of breath. Other symptoms may include diarrhoea, vomiting, nausea and muscle pain. Like other respiratory infections, it is not always possible to identify patients who have contracted MERS, as they may present with a range of non-specific symptoms in the early stages of the disease.

President Park Geun-hye’s government has been criticised for its failure to respond more swiftly to the outbreak of the disease and to identify “patient zero”: the 68-year old South Korean who returned home after an eight day trip to the Middle East where he had developed a cough and fever. After seeking treatment from four different health care facilities, the index patient was eventually hospitalised in Pyeongtaek, a city 65 kilometres southwest of Seoul. While refusing to name the specific hospitals and clinics visited by the patient, South Korean health authorities have confirmed that MERS cases were subsequently reported in three of the four institutions in question.

While health officials remain optimistic about containing the outbreak, its effect on South Korea’s economy is likely to have more far-reaching consequences. In what the Bank of Korea Governor Lee Ju-yeol described as a “pre-emptive more to contain the economic fallout from MERS”, interest rates have been lowered by a quarter of a percentage point to 1.5 percent. While precautionary measures such as these are doubtless in order, their effects have yet to be felt. Consumer confidence has been noticeably shaken by the virus’s spread and South Korean businesses, particularly those in hospitality and retail, have reported a sharp decline in sales. Tourism and international business has likewise been effected, with over 54,000 foreign travellers cancelling their plans to visit South Korea this month.

As the situation in South Korea continues to develop, concerns have been raised by health care professionals over MERS potential to become a global threat. While MERS is considered to be a potential pandemic threat, it seems unlikely that this particular outbreak will take on such catastrophic proportions. First, MERS is not a human virus. While it can be contracted by humans from infected animals, it is not highly contagious; in order for it to go pandemic – to pose an existential threat to members of the community – it would need to mutate. Second, the outbreak is comparatively small and mostly centred on hospitals and clinics. Although MERS spreads poorly between people, medical procedures and equipment, such as respirators, may aerosolise the virus from the lungs and infect people nearby. As a situation like this is unlikely to arise outside of a hospital setting, the spread of the disease is likely to be slow and once detected, more easily contained. Third, MERS is not SARS. While related, these two diseases differ in one important respect: SARS had developed the ability to be easily spread between people while MERS has not. Whether MERS will at some point in the future undergo genetic mutation enabling it to infect humans more easily is, at this point, mere speculation.

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MERS virus Cases on the Rise in the Middle East

Posted on in MENA, Saudi Arabia title_rule

28 April: A  potentially fatal virus is spreading throughout the Middle East and could become a global threat. The Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) has health officials on high alert. The virus causes severe respiratory difficulties in humans. Symptoms of an infection include coughing, fever, pneumonia and shortness of breath.

The virus was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012, and health care officials have observed a rise in cases of infection during March and April for the past three years. In the past month, over 120 cases of MERS-CoV have been reported in the country, with over 10 reported cases each day, up from two or three daily in previous years. In 2014, there have been more cases detected than in 2012 and 2013 combined. On Thursday alone, the Saudi Arabian health ministry confirmed 36 new cases and four deaths.

The epicentre of the outbreak appears to be in Jedda, where seven cases of MERS have been confirmed in April. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), most of the infections were secondary cases in which healthcare workers or other hospital patients have been infected by someone who already has the virus.

The virus appears to be spreading. Over the weekend, Egypt confirmed its first-ever case of MERS. The Egyptian patient had been working in Riyadh before returning to the country. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), seven new cases have been confirmed, including a 4-year-old boy from Abu Dhabi, believed to have been infected by his mother who recently returned from  Saudi Arabia. Cases of MERS infections have also been reported in Qatar, Jordan, Yemen, Oman, and Kuwait, the UK, Tunisia, France, Italy, Germany, Malaysia, the Philippines and Greece. In the U.S., the Center for Disease Control “has been preparing for the possibility that a MERS case could walk off an airplane onto American soil.”

The WHO has confirmed 254 cases of MERS since the virus first appeared in April 2012. Of those cases, 93 have resulted in the patient’s death (36% fatality rate).

Saudi Arabia has been accused of obscuring information about the outbreak, making it that much harder for the international health community to answer important questions. The WHO has suggested that “inadequate” infection prevention may have contributed to the outbreak, but health professionals know very little about the virus or its means of transmission. Scientists first linked MERS-CoV to bats; however recent tests have found that signs of the disease are also widespread in camels, as it often appeared in patients who worked with camels, or consumed camel meat or milk. However, it appears that the virus has evolved, making it easier to transmit the disease between humans. Currently, the virus appears to stop after the second person, yet scientists fear that the disease may evolve again, potentially cause a pandemic.

Because of the upswing in the number of cases during March and April, many scientists have considered that MERS may be a seasonal virus. However if cases continue to rise beyond April, the biggest fears may come to fruition in October, when over one million Muslims will travel to Saudi Arabia for Hajj, creating an opportunity for a spike in global infection.

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