In the wake of an overblown reaction to Ebola (in the U.S.), the public might be a little tired of hearing about the next dire threat to everyone’s public health. Hopefully some are paying attention to the actions taken by the South Korean government in an effort to prevent a wide outbreak of MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus) in that country:
South Korea scrambled Wednesday to try to contain an outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome, a virus that has already claimed two lives in the country, with more than 1,300 people quarantined and upwards of 500 schools set to close their doors Thursday.
Two people have died from MERS in South Korea, while 28 others have been confirmed as having the virus, five of them on Wednesday alone. This makes the outbreak the largest outside Saudi Arabia, where MERS began three years ago, the World Health Organization said, warning that “further cases can be expected.”
Another 398 cases are suspected and a total of 1,364 more people have been quarantined, the vast majority of them at home.
As public health experts strained to explain during the height of Ebola concern in this country, and what was proven during the SARS outbreak earlier this century, it is impossible to close borders and prevent a disease from spreading globally. On that scary notion, there is worry that MERS has spread to China:
Meanwhile, Chinese authorities quarantined 88 people, including 14 South Koreans, after a 44-year-old South Korean man, the son of one of the people who has contracted the virus, defied medical advice and flew to Hong Kong on May 26 while he had symptoms of the virus. He then traveled to the southern Chinese province of Guangdong by bus.
China informed WHO on May 29 that the man had tested positive for the virus and had been isolated at a hospital in Huizhou, Guangdong, while Chinese authorities try to track down other people who might have been exposed.
If you haven’t followed earlier news about this emerging infectious disease that originated in the Middle East, here is a little background provided by the CDC:
Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is an illness caused by a virus (more specifically, a coronavirus) called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV). MERS affects the respiratory system (lungs and breathing tubes). Most MERS patients developed severe acute respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath. About 3-4 out of every 10 patients reported with MERS have died.
Health officials first reported the disease in Saudi Arabia in September 2012. Through retrospective investigations, health officials later identified that the first known cases of MERS occurred in Jordan in April 2012. So far, all cases of MERS have been linked to countries in and near the Arabian Peninsula.
MERS-CoV has spread from ill people to others through close contact, such as caring for or living with an infected person. However, there is no evidence of sustained spreading in community settings.
MERS can affect anyone. MERS patients have ranged in age from younger than 1 to 99 years old.