|MERS virus (image from eden.lsu.edu)|
MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) was first reported in 2012 in isolated clusters on the Arabian Peninsula. It was still unknown if the virus could be transmitted by personal contact. At that time, there were about eleven known cases of the virus, five fatal.
Human to human transmission was confirmed in March, 2013 with the infection and death of a man in Britain. By then, the number of cases had increased to fourteen with eight fatalities. April and May saw a total of 23 infections in eastern Saudi Arabia.
The death toll rose as the disease spread, and by mid-August the numbers had jumped to nearly a hundred total confirmed cases with 46 fatalities. Saudi government officials now report the infection has claimed at least 76 lives in that country alone.
In a more optimistic sign, no new cases of MERS have been reported in Saudi since August 1, 2013 despite thousands of Ramadan pilgrims visiting the country during July and August. Countries are advised to be alert for signs of acute respiratory illness in people having recently returned from the area.
CDC Funds Efforts to Increase Local Monitoring:
The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) has awarded nearly 76 million dollars to assist state and local communities to beef up epidemiology and laboratories to better identify, track and respond to possible outbreaks of infectious disease. This is in addition to the 13.7 million dollars which was dispersed to local agencies in January, 2013.
The money will be used to hire more than a thousand full and part time epidemiologists, laboratory technicians and health information systems personnel. Noting that many outbreaks of infectious disease are first identified at the local level, the announcement states:
"The annual ELC investment provides public health officials with improved tools to respond to more outbreaks, conduct surveillance faster and prevent more illnesses and deaths from infectious diseases...This crucial CDC investment helps build a competent public health workforce, able surveillance systems, modern and efficient laboratory facilities and information networks."More information on funding for specific states is available at this CDC website.
See MERS Watch for updated information on this topic.