Deadly virus still confined to Mideast
LONDON — The respiratory virus that emerged in the Middle East last year appears to make people sicker faster than SARS, but doesn't seem to spread as easily, according to the latest detailed look at about four dozen cases in Saudi Arabia.
Since September, the World Health Organization has confirmed 90 cases of MERS, the Middle East respiratory syndrome, including 45 deaths. Most cases have been in Saudi Arabia, but the virus has been identified in countries including Jordan, Qatar, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Tunisia. MERS is related to SARS, and the two diseases have similar symptoms including a fever, cough and muscle pain.
“At the moment, the virus is still confined (to the Middle East),” said Dr. Christian Drosten of the University of Bonn Medical Center in Germany, who wrote an accompanying commentary. “But this is a coronavirus and we know coronaviruses are able to cause pandemics.”
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that mostly cause respiratory infections like the common cold, but it includes SARS, the virus that killed about 800 people in a 2003 global outbreak. MERS is distantly related to SARS, but there are major differences between the two. Unlike SARS, MERS can cause rapid kidney failure and doesn't seem as infectious.
Drosten said the upcoming hajj in October — where millions of Muslim pilgrims will visit Saudi Arabia, where the virus is still spreading — is worrisome. On Thursday, WHO said in a statement that the risk of an individual traveler to Mecca catching MERS was considered “very low.”
In the latest study, researchers found 42 of the 47 cases in Saudi Arabia needed intensive care. Of those, 34 patients deteriorated so badly within a week they needed a breathing machine. That was up to five days earlier than was the case with SARS. Most of the MERS cases were in older men with underlying health problems, as one of the biggest outbreaks was among dialysis patients at several hospitals.
The research was published Friday in the journal, Lancet Infectious Diseases.
Ali Zumla, one of the paper's co-authors and a professor of infectious diseases at University College London, said in an email that the rapid deterioration of patients was “not worrying at all since the numbers are small” and most of the patients had other health problems.
Drosten, however, said that could be bad news. “That could mean the virus is more virulent and that (doctors) have a smaller window of opportunity to intervene and treat patients,” he said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- FIFA rocked as U.S. indicts 14 in corruption investigation
- Blair to quit post as U.N. special Middle East envoy
- U.S. senator in Cuba says normal relations ‘weeks away’
- 4 Taliban attackers killed in Kabul siege
- ISIS suicide attacks kill 17 Iraqi soldiers
- Saudi aerial offensive pummels Yemen capital
- Britain’s pro-EU side happy with wording of referendum
- Iraqi militias begin move on Ramadi
- Dozens dead in gunfight on Mexico ranch
- Relentless heat wave kills more than 1,000 in India
- Nuclear talks bog down as Iran team balks at key decisions, envoys say