Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus may have ties to the notorious SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) coronavirus that spread to almost 25 countries within a half year, killing 770 of the 8,000 people sickened by it, but it’s far more mysterious and deadly. And while it has remained out of the spotlight lately, recent reports from Saudi Arabia and Yemen confirm new deaths and cases.
Yemen reported its first case ever of the virus. The man, living in Sanaa, works as an aeronautics engineer, according to Reuters. MERS has already infected 212 people and killed 88 according to the World Health Organization. The virus is deadlier than SARS because compared to the amount that become sick, death rates are high. MERS has already killed about 42 percent of those who fell ill.
“The [Yemeni health] ministry is working in effective cooperation with the World Health Organization to confront this virus and is in direct and constant communication with all hospitals to receive information on any other suspected cases,” Public Health Minister Ahmed al-Ansi was quoted as saying by a Yemeni newspaper, according to Al Jazeera.
Of those 88 dead from the virus, two of them were recently reported by the Saudi Arabian health ministry. Meanwhile, the outbreak continued there with 15 new cases, including eight at the King Fahd General Hospital in the city of Jeddah — this cluster included five health care workers and three patients. The surge in illnesses forced the hospital to shut down its emergency room, causing panic throughout the facility.
The fact that a large number of people infected have been health care workers highlights the importance of efforts to prevent its spread, and the lack thereof. And it’s drawn criticism from doctors at the frontlines. “I’m not pretty sure that they are actually seeing how big this thing is,” a Saudi doctor at the hospital told The Wall Street Journal on Sunday. He called for the hospital to shut down completely in order to disinfect and ensure that the virus wouldn’t spread.
Dr. Ian M. Mackay, an epidemiologist who has studied the virus’ spread, told the Journal that the virus doesn’t spread easily from human-to-human, and therefore, the number of new infections could lead to the conclusion that there’s been a “breakdown in infection prevention and control.”
MERS has been largely contained within the Middle East, in countries like Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. However, there have been isolated cases in parts of Europe as well, stretching as far west as France and the UK. Most people who develop the infection experience a quick onset of respiratory difficulty. They have shortness of breath, coughing, and fever, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There has been no confirmed source of the virus either, although experts have found evidence suggesting that camels in the region transmitted the virus to humans.