May 2014 – DISEASE – Saudi Arabia reported five more deaths on Wednesday from a mysterious respiratory virus that first appeared there two years ago and has since spread to at least 16 other countries, including the United States. The Saudi Health Ministry said the latest fatalities from infections caused by the virus, known as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, brought the total in that country to 157. Saudi Arabia accounts for the vast majority of the 171 deaths and 571 infections from the virus globally. The Saudi announcement came as the World Health Organization said in a statement that its concern about MERS “had significantly increased,” but that there was still “no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission” of the virus. –NY Times
Two more cases in US – Two health workers in the U.S. are now showing signs of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) after exposure to an infected Saudi resident. CBC News Canada reports that the two workers have already been isolated, one is being treated in the hospital while the other is isolated in his home where he is being monitored. These two workers have been isolated because they are showing flu-like symptoms, which is how MERS starts. Florida’s method of response has been to isolate potential MERS patients first and then confirm or refute that they are carrying the virus after. As a result, these two have already been isolated. Additionally, there are 15 other workers at the hospital the Saudi resident visited that came into contact with him. They have been asked to stay home until they are cleared.
These new suspected cases come less than two weeks after the first U.S. case. On May 2, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the first confirmed U.S. case of MERS. Public health officials are assuring citizens that there is very low risk to the general public. Still, the Daily Herald reports that CDC officials are contacting individuals that may be at risk and will respond if others are showing symptoms. MERS is a coronavirus of the same family as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The World Health Organization reports that MERS suddenly appeared and started infecting people in September 2012 and may have a higher mortality rate than SARS. However, CBS News reports that SARS infected healthy and unhealthy people at comparable rates, while MERS seems to affect vulnerable people at a drastically higher rate. –CNN