Mass pilgrim gatherings could encourage MERS coronavirus to spread faster…(Prepare!!)

Monday, July 22, 2013
By Paul Martin
21 Jul 2013

MERS-CoV, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus may spread faster and deeper internationally during two mass pilgrim gatherings taking place this year in Saudi Arabia, Dr. Kamran Khan, an infectious disease physician, of St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto, Canada, and colleagues warned in the journal PLoS Currents: Outbreaks.

Two Muslim pilgrimages – Umrah and Hajj – attract millions of people from all over the world to the holy Saudi cities of Mecca and Medina.

Umrah can be done at any time of year. However, the bulk of travellers come during the month of Ramadan, which this year started on July 9th and ends on August 7th. Hajj, the major pilgrimage, takes place this year from October 13th to 18th.

Saudi Arabia expects over one million pilgrims from every corner of the globe during the next two to three weeks. In October, at least another three million will come.

Dr. Khan and colleagues are urging health care providers to learn from the experience of SARS. They emphasize that it is crucial for authorities and health care providers to anticipate rather than react to pilgrims coming home from the Middle East.

SARS was an unknown coronavirus that killed 800 people globally ten years ago. Forty-four people died in Toronto. The Canadian government says that SARS cost the nation’s economy approximately $2 billion.

The MERS coronavirus is also a previously unknown one. It appears to have emerged in the Middle East last year and has spread to several countries in the area, as well as Europe and North Africa. Cases of MERS-CoV infection have been reported in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, France, Italy, Tunisia, Germany and the Untied Kingdom.

Over 80 cases of MERS-CoV human infection have been confirmed worldwide, 42 of them died – MERS has a mortality rate of over 50%. SARS death rate was about 10%.

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