Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
FILE- In this Wednesday, April 16, 2014, file photo, passengers walk past the medical quarantine area showing information sheets for the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus at the arrival section of Manila's International Airport in Paranaque, south of Manila. One expert says recent outbreaks of MERS in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that led to more than 20 infections, many among health-care workers, “have put us into uncharted territory.” (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Spate of Mideast virus infections triggers concerns
Health » Officials worry about a possible SARS-like outbreak.
First Published Apr 17 2014 03:59 pm • Last Updated Apr 17 2014 08:02 pm

Dubai, United Arab Emirates • A recent spate of infections from a frequently deadly Middle East virus is raising new worries about efforts to contain the illness, with infectious disease experts urging greater vigilance in combatting its spread.

More than 20 people, many of them health-care workers, have been reported infected with the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus in two distinct clusters — one in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — likely involving human-to-human transmission since early last week.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

The disease, originally identified in 2012 in the Middle East, has also for the first time spread to the Far East, which grappled with an outbreak of the related SARS virus last decade.

"The last two weeks have put us into uncharted territory," said Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota.

He described the recent batches of Saudi and UAE infections as "very important" and a possible signal that the virus could be mutating.

The disease’s spread to Southeast Asia — confined for now to people with clear links to the Mideast — meanwhile "heightens the concern that we could be in the early days of another SARS-like event," he warned.

"We’re clearly at a very significant stay-tuned moment," Osterholm said.

MERS belongs to a family of viruses known as coronaviruses that include both the common cold and SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, which killed some 800 people in a global outbreak in 2003.

MERS can cause symptoms such as fever, breathing problems, pneumonia and kidney failure.

It does not for now appear to spread as quickly between people as SARS did. But it does seem to be more deadly. According to the World Health Organization, 92 of the 238 people confirmed to have been infected with MERS have died.


story continues below
story continues below

The WHO has stopped short of calling for specific travel and trade restrictions. It has urged member countries to report detailed information about all cases and says more needs to be known about how the disease is transmitted within hospitals.

A Malaysian man this week became the first person to die from the MERS in Asia. The 54 year old from southern Johor state, near Singapore, developed a high fever and cough and had difficulty breathing after returning from a pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia on March 29.

Scientists believe that camels are a key source of transmission of the virus to humans, though it is not clear how infection occurs.

It is also unclear how readily the virus can pass between people, though that appears to have happened in the Saudi and UAE infections.

"It is always a worry if sustained human-to-human transmission of a newly identified virus occurs," said Ian Mackay, a virologist affiliated with the Australian Infectious Diseases Research Center at the University of Queensland.

He noted that sustained transmission beyond those local clusters hasn’t been seen yet, and that recent infections might have resulted from relatively close contact between medical professionals and an infected patient.

Other Mideast countries that have past reported cases of infection include Jordan, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar. A small number of cases have been diagnosed in Europe and North Africa.

Saudi health authorities last week reported that 11 people in the Red Sea city of Jiddah were infected, some of them health care workers, and that two had died.

Officials there took the extraordinary step of redirecting patients away from the King Fahd hospital, where at least one of those infected worked, to other health care facilities so the emergency ward could be thoroughly cleaned.

In an updated statement released Wednesday, the Saudi Health Ministry reported that 37 cases of the virus have been detected at five hospitals in Jiddah between March 15 and this past Tuesday, seven of them fatal.

It did not provide details, making it impossible to determine if there has been an increase in transmission rates. Officials could not be reached for clarification.

Next Page >


Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.