With yesterday’s announcement that the MERS virus has been found for the first time in Cairo Egypt, the World Health Organization has warned countries across the globe to be on the the lookout for cases of the deadly SARS-like illness.
Egypt’s Ministry of Health identified the patient as a 27-year-old Egyptian man, who had been living and working in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital. He was placed in quarantine at a Cairo hospital immediately upon his return.
The number of known MERS infections has skyrocketed in recent days, with Saudi Arabia alone reporting 48 cases on Wednesday and Thursday. In the 20 months since the world became aware a new coronavirus was infecting people, there has not been a single month where the total cases from all affected countries was as high as that two-day tally.
Saudi Arabia, where the deadly virus first appeared in 2012, announced five new MERS deaths just after the case in Cairo was confirmed. This brings the death toll in Saudi Arabia alone to 92, with more than 300 cases diagnosed.
On Friday, an Indonesian man who had traveled to Saudi Arabia died of MERS after returning home. The MERS virus has also been found elsewhere in the Middle East, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, which has reported seven new laboratory-confirmed cases, the UN WHO stated Saturday.
In the past two weeks, reports of the MERS virus have skyrocketed, popping up in Greece, Malaysia, Jordan and the Philippines. The WHO is now warning that the MERS virus may begin to spread in various parts of the globe carried by people who have been to countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
More than 45 per cent of all MERS cases that have ever been diagnosed have been recorded in this month alone. The enormous spike now has experts wondering if the virus has mutated, to become more easily transmitted from person to person.
And diagnosing cases rapidly may prove to be a challenge, because some have mild or atypical symptoms. In Greece for instance, a man recently diagnosed with MERS did not initially appear to have a respiratory infection. He had a protracted fever and diarrhea, but doctors were suspicious because he had travelled through Saudi Arabia. The man developed pneumonia while still in the hospital.
MERS, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, is a coronavirus similar to the one that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome, which appeared in Asia more than a decade ago. But this new virus is deadlier, killing approximately one patient out of every three. Its symptoms include fever, coughing, and flu-like aches and chills. Some patients develop pneumonia.
Currently, there is no such thing as a MERS vaccine. The UN World Health Organization is calling for more urgent research on the MERS virus and its properties.