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Deadly Virus Spreads Throughout Middle East

It seems that the world is being assaulted by an almost biblical torrent of floods, plagues and pestilence.Our crops are being annihilated by pests and diseases, severe weather is affecting all corners of the globe, and now mysterious viruses are taking their toll on human life.

The latest virus to hit the headlines is Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, or MERS, a close relative of the Asian flu SARS, the lethal virus that spread through the East ten years ago leaving 800 people dead.

MERS is known to be even more deadly than SARS and has no known vaccine or cure; its only saving grace is that it appears to be far less infectious than its predecessor. Nevertheless, it has already killed 100 people across the Middle Eastern region and is still spreading, with Egypt declaring its first official case this weekend. The unsuspecting host transporting the virus into that country was a 27-year-old civil engineer who had recently returned from a trip to Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi government has fired its Minister of Health, Abdullah al-Rabia, after he had told the media that he had no idea why MERS cases were on the increase.The Saudi government is keen to avert panic, and has linked the rise in cases to the changing seasons.

"We have faced an increase in the number of cases around the same time last year at the end of winter," a Saudi health official commented.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has conducted a report into the virus in which it also suggested that seasonality may play a role, though an increase in awareness could also account for the higher numbers of official cases. The report did express concern that the disease now appears to be spreading via human contact; initially, the first cases were thought to have been contracted by contact with camels.

WHO are still confident that the disease is not very contagious and will be contained in the Middle East, though a report on MERS in PLOS Pathogens September last year confirmed that infections had been reported in the United Kingdom, Tunisia, France, Italy, and Germany, and had been imported into those countried via travel from the Middle East. The report also suggested that the most likely trans-species contagion had arisen from bats, as with SARS, rather than with camels as suggested by other sources.

Ultimately, it is not yet clear where the virus has originated from, and conspiracy theorists conjecture that such viral outbreaks could be linked to bio-terrorism. The recent news that 2,300 vials of the dangerous SARS virus has gone missing from a French laboratory will only serve to propagate such theories as quickly as the mystery viruses themselves.

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I work in public health, and have been watching this one closely since 2012, and it is surrounded in controversy too. The Saudi virologist that discovered and isolated the virus in 2012, Dr. Ali Mohammed Zaki, was fired from the hospital where he worked, and also angered Saudi officials when he shared information about the virus with other colleagues outside of his country, but the cat was out of the bag, thank God.

While the virus has been found in camels, there is some real irony involved as well since the main reservoir has been shown to be Egyptian tomb bats, as mentioned in the article.

Even more frightening, is that one of the earlier cases of MERS involved a man who was seriously ill and was taken by air ambulance from Qatar to London on September 11, 2012. (911, interesting, no?). This was before they knew anything about the virus, so if it had been highly contagious human to human in 2012, it could have led to a pandemic in no time. It took Dr. Zaki's sharing of information only a few days after the man was admitted to intensive care in London to get the British (and WHO) to sit up and pay attention.

I already wonder how this could affect the next Hajj in October of this year? People travel from all over the world for this annual pilgrimage. Some interesting wordplay and synchronities...The Hajj is held in Mecca and one of the rituals involves people walking counter-clockwise 7 times around a cube-shaped building called the Ka 'aba. In Egyptian mythology, the 'Ka' was he vital essence of life, while the 'Ba' was basically the essence or spirt of the person. (Add the disease vector of Egyptian tomb bats and it seems eerie, especially in light of the fact that MERS has made its way into Egypt.)

I really hope that they get this one under control quickly, because it appears to have evolved to spread more easily between humans in the last two years.

"...a close relative of the Asian flu SARS, the lethal virus that spread through the East ten years ago leaving 800 people dead."

I remember reading an article about SARS, that it was spread around the world by a WHO doctor. According to the article he contracted the coronavirus (the common cold is a coronavirus) and then he got on an airplane.

Oh dear, I guess I'm a conspiracy theorist. (Note my comment on, Is Climate Change Encouraging the Spread of Dangerous Diseases?

Read the original source:


"World Health Organization (WHO) physician Dr. Carlo Urbani identified SARS as a new disease in 2003. He diagnosed it in a 48-year-old businessman. The businessman and the doctor who first diagnosed SARS both died from the illness.

"In the meantime, SARS was spreading."

On February 23, 2003, a 47-year-old Chinese-American businessman (Johnny Chen, a Shanghai resident) who had stayed on the 9th floor of the Metropole Hotel, travelled to Hanoi, Vietnam.

Seven days later, on ventilator support, he was medically evacuated to Hong Kong but by then seven hospital workers who had cared for him had already developed symptoms of SARS. He died on March 13. At least 38 health-care workers in Hanoi were infected with SARS.

WHO doctor Carlo Urbani, an infectious diseases specialist based in Hanoi who attended Mr Chen, noticed the outbreak among hospital workers there and first recognized SARS as a new disease.

Due to the work he did in Hanoi treating SARS infected patients, Dr. Urbani became infected with the virus himself. On March 11, as he flew from Hanoi to a conference in Bangkok, Thailand where he was to talk on the subject of childhood parasites, Urbani started feeling feverish on the plane.

Carlo Urbani died on 29 March 2003

@ Leslie Cooper

Conspiracy theory? I have a conspiracy theory:

Whoever 'created' the SARS virus didn't like the good Doctor Urbani cutting into their bottom line as they had a whole line of 'treatments' ready to bring to 'market.'

A liaison of this group met the doctor and infected him. They would turn the doctor who helped stem the spread of SARS into a transmission medium. The doctor wouldn't have suspected anything.

Later, a couple of execs laugh and cheer over a bottle of champagne at the doctor's demise... And the windfall increase in share value expected over the coming months.

@ rainmaker

A very sad idea and could very well be true.

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