MERS spreading in Middle East, Europe: Should Americans worry?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013
By Paul Martin

June 24, 2013

MERS has infected 70 people overseas since last September, health officials reported Sunday. The infectious disease known as a coronavirus has killed more than half of its victims.

The latest toll includes two more laboratory-confirmed cases in Saudi Arabia — the country hit hardest by the outbreak so far — and a death of a previously reported case from the Eastern Region of the country who had been hospitalized since the end of April, according to the World Health Organization. The means 39 people have died of MERS since Sept. 2012.

To date, the cases of MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) have been linked directly or indirectly to four countries: Jordan Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Other cases have been found in France, Germany, Italy, Tunisia and the U.K., but those patients have either been transferred for care from the Middle East or visited the region and got sick later. There has also been evidence of the disease spreading in close contact at health care facilities.

A coronavirus is a respiratory infection in the same family of the common cold and SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), which killed about 800 people during a 2003 pandemic.

Last week, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine found the new MERS virus was deadlier than SARS, finding about an 8 percent death rate among SARS patients, compared to a 65 percent fatality rate among those infected with MERS.

The disease has prompted Saudi health officials to urge safety precautions during the Umrah pilgrimage during the month of Ramadan this July, urging the elderly, terminally ill, pregnant women and children to postpone their plans.

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