May 4, 2014. Munster, IN. Two panic-stricken announcements emerged this weekend regarding the mysterious and deadly new disease called MERS, short for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. The first came on Friday, confirming the US found its first official MERS case a frightening ten days ago. The second announcement came yesterday from Saudi Arabia, the hardest-hit nation on Earth by the virus. Officials confirmed MERS is spreading faster than thought.
Four days old, this map of MERS outbreaks is already outdated. Image courtesy of Matikos Santos & Inquirer.net.
If there’s a bright spot regarding the deadly MERS virus, it’s that so far only 20-25 percent of infected victims have died. So, it’s not an automatic death sentence if the disease is contracted. Like all new viruses however, the microscopic bug may evolve and mutate over time. Either way, the US has become personally involved after discovering its first case of the two-year-old-disease.
America’s MERS patient zero
If there is an outbreak of the MERS virus in the US, it will most-likely be traced back to an American healthcare worker who recently visited Saudi Arabia and returned with the disease. The virus seems to attack healthcare workers and those already ill more prominently than the general public. It had also been most prevalent throughout six countries on the Arabian peninsula - Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Oman, Jordan and Kuwait. Since first discovered, MERS has officially spread to 12 countries, but independent sources are already putting the number at 16, and counting.
America’s patient zero, as the first patient of any epidemic is termed, has thrust global disease control workers on an investigative journey that spans three continents. On April 24, the MERS-infected traveler left Riyadh, Saudi Arabia aboard a British Airways flight which landed in London’s Heathrow Airport. From there the infected passenger transferred to American Airlines flight 99 and continued on to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. From O’Hare in Chicago, the infected individual then boarded a public bus and drove to Munster, Indiana.
Three days later, the victim developed a cough and fever and sought medical attention at the local Munster hospital. It was there that doctors appeared almost psychic in their decision to test their patient for the MERS virus even though there’s never been a case in the US and the victim only demonstrated symptoms of the common cold or flu. The early detection is being credited by some with the victim’s fortunate prognosis of being expected to survive.
US and British officials have also begun contacting all the people who may have come in close physical contact with the infected person on either flight or his Chicago bus. In Munster, hospital officials have already started contacting all employees and patients that may have encountered the victim, including all emergency room patients and family members who were at the hospital on April 28th from 6:30 to 9:30pm.
The MERS virus - what you should know
The MERS virus is a coronavirus in the same category as influenza, pneumonia and other newer strains like SARS. Its fatal characteristic is that it attacks the victim’s respiratory system. The new Middle Eastern version, first detected in Saudi Arabia in 2012, is also found in camels and bats in the region. That’s led some researchers to suggest MERS is yet another animal virus that somehow jumped to the human population. Some even assert these new viruses are biological warfare experiments created by certain nations.
US officials are attempting to reassure nervous Americans by insisting the MERS virus doesn’t spread through casual contact. As Cook County Health and Hospital system’s Dr. David Schwartz told the Chicago Tribune this weekend, “It does really seem as if you need to spend, as we say, quality time with a person who has the illness in order to catch it from them. I think there're a lot of reasons to be hopeful that this virus will not produce the kind of problems that the SARS coronavirus did.”
SARS, short for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, is another coronavirus that killed hundreds in Asia and North America more than a decade ago. SARS is much more deadly and easily spread than MERS appears to be. That’s good because global health officials still haven’t been able to develop a treatment for the disease. Currently, US health officials are putting out the word to the country’s healthcare industry to be on the lookout for flu-like symptoms in patients that have travelled to the Middle East recently. At the same time, patient zero is currently under quarantine in Munster, Indiana.
MERS spreading faster than thought
Illustrating that the disease MERS is spreading faster than world health authorities can keep up with it, or are possibly willing to admit, global news reports that delivered official infection and death rates for the disease two days ago were already outdated by yesterday’s news cycle. As reported yesterday, Saudi Arabian health officials have drastically revised their MERS fatality numbers.
Among the revelations are that in the 13 months since MERS has been tracked by officials, the month with the greatest increase of infections was last month. The Saudis also provided infection and fatality numbers that contradicted the statistics currently being distributed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
According to the CDC’s numbers on MERS, there have been 401 cases with 93 deaths spanning 12 countries. But Saudi officials confirmed yesterday that they’ve reported 109 MERS deaths in their country alone. The 12 countries the fatal virus has officially been confirmed in are below. Readers will notice there are 16 countries listed. That’s another indication that the MERS virus is spreading faster than media outlets and health officials can keep up with.
Those who think they might have been exposed to the MERS virus should contact health officials in their local community immediately. Experts warn that the symptoms are similar to the flu and the main indicator of possible infection is recent travel to the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia, where the virus is most widespread. Symptoms have been shown to develop as soon as 2 days after encountering the disease or as long as 2 weeks from contact with an infected person.
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