Margaret Chan, the director of the World Health Organization, in her closing statements to the 66th World Health Assembly said that the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus was a threat to the entire world. It is a new SARS-like virus and has killed about half of the people that it has infected although the number infected has been small. Of major interest is how readily it can be transmitted through casual contact. Per the article:
"We understand too little about this virus when viewed against the magnitude of its potential threat. Any new disease that is emerging faster than our understanding is never under control,” Chan said during the 66th World Health Assembly. Chan said that this new virus should send out “alarm bells” across the globe....The Associated Press reports that health officials believe that MERS can spread among people if they are in close contact with one another.
The bad news is that it incubates 9 to 12 days. The good news is that many of the people who died had another health problem. (That's not good for me but for healthy folks.) It's not clear what the actual death rate is yet, because symptoms are so similar to other common illnesses. Mild cases may be going unreported, and spreading MERS without anyone knowing. It's likely that spread is through large droplets or touching contaminated surfaces. A hospital patient got it from his roommate without ever having touched him.
The long incubation period makes this especially dangerous in a highly connected world.
Hmmm, Contagion, anyone?
Three new cases have just turned up in Italy. One was carried there from the Middle East and two more were contracted in Italy from the carrier. It is not supposed to be as contagious as SARS. Per the article:
Globally, from September 2012 to date, WHO has been informed of a total of 53 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection with MERS-CoV, including 30 deaths. WHO has received reports of laboratory-confirmed cases originating in the following countries in the Middle East to date: Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). France, Germany, Italy,Tunisia and the United Kingdom also reported laboratory-confirmed cases; they were either transferred there for care of the disease or returned from the Middle East and subsequently became ill.