Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Worldwide Health Groups Issue MERS Updates

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus, or MERS-CoV; aka Novel Virus) has been quietly spreading on the Arabian Peninsula. There have been nearly a hundred confirmed cases so far, half fatal. (See Deadly New Virus Spreads Through Human Contact)

MERS Coronavirus
Photo from HO-US National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Several health organizations, including The Center for Disease Controls (CDC), The World Health Organization (WHO) and The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) have issued new guidelines or updated information regarding the dangerous MERS virus which has killed 45 people in the Arabian Peninsula and southern Europe, with the majority of deaths in Saudi Arabia.

Increased Testing for MERS Recommended:
The CDC updated its advice to health professionals, advising them to increase testing for MERS, including in those who meet specific epidemiological and clinical criteria even if those illnesses could be explained by another cause. They also recommend testing for the virus in clusters of severe acute respiratory illnesses, even when there is no apparent link to other MERS infections.

Nations Watch for Outbreaks as Ramadan Pilgrims Return From Saudi Arabia:
To date, 94 cases have been laboratory confirmed, with an additional sixteen unconfirmed.The WHO reports that new infections are still occurring in the Arabian Peninsula but there have been no known exported cases for several months. They urge vigilance however, as thousands of Ramadan pilgrims have recently returned from Saudi Arabia. Ramadan ended on August 8.

Update 08/16/2013:
In a possibly ominous sign, a forty year old man in Mumbai, India is suspected of contracting the MERS virus after returning to India from 35 days in Saudi Arabia. He is currently quarantined at Kasturba Hospital in Chinchpokli while testing for the virus is being conducted. 

Update: 08/18/2013: The suspected case from India (above) has tested negative for MERS. He is responding well to treatment and will be released soon. 

Majority of Saudi Cases Spread Through Human Contact:
In response to a recent report that camels may be spreading the virus, the ECDC issued a statement cautioning that no clear link has been found. In fact, most of those infected had no known contact with camels or other animals.

Much of the spread of the disease appears to be through human contact. According to this article from the New England Journal of Medicine, 21 of 23 confirmed cases in Saudi Arabia were caused by person to person contact in three different health care facilities and among family care givers.

See MERS Watch for updated information on this topic.

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