MERS Coronavirus: Tracking the Outbreak
By ABC News
May 30, 2013
The ABC News medical team reports on the outbreak of a novel virus as it unfolds.
Virus Lands in Italy
June 1 Katie Moisse(@katiemoisse)
Italian health officials today confirmed the country’s first case of the MERS coronavirus, the Associated Press reported.
The patient, a 45-year-old man, is said to be on good condition after receiving treatment at a hospital in Tuscany, according to the AP. He reportedly developed symptoms of the virus after a 40-day visit to Jordan.
Infections have also emerged in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Germany, the United Kingdom and France. All of the cases have ties to the Middle East, according to the World Health Organization.
Worry Grows Over ‘Superspreaders’
May 31 Richard Besser (@DrRichardBesser)
The MERS coronavirus has yet to surface in the United States, but experts say it’s “only a plane ride away.”
“It would be easy for this to be imported to this country,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “CDC works 24/7 to track infections around the world because we are all connected by the air we breathe.”
Full Coverage of the MERS Coronavirus Outbreak
Frieden said he’s particularly worried about “superspreaders,” people who can pass viruses more readily than others. The 2003 SARS outbreak was driven by a small group of superspreaders, including the initial case in Hong Kong, and a couple who travelled to Toronto.
SARS sickened more than 8,000 people, killing 774 of them. The virus vanished in 2004, probably because non-superspreaders proved very ineffective at spreading the disease.
So far, at least 50 people have contracted MERS – the Middle East respiratory syndrome – and at least 30 of them have died. And while the virus seems to be spreading more slowly than SARS, there’s still the potential for superspreaders to ramp up the numbers.
“It’s only in the past month or two that it’s begun to look a lot more like SARS, and that’s why we’re more concerned now,” said Frieden, adding that Americans who have traveled to the Middle East should tell their doctors if they develop flu-like symptoms so they can be isolated and treated.
“Our job is to worry about things that might harm Americans so that Americans don’t have to worry themselves,” he said. “What we’re doing is working 24/7 to track it, to figure out where it is, how it’s spreading and how to make sure that we can stop it.”