Next Week’s Hajj Raises the Risk of a MERS Outbreak. Good Thing the CDC Is Shut Down
By Joshua Keating
OCT. 8 2013
Saudi Arabia has already downsized the number of pilgrims allowed to attend this year’s Hajj, which will take place next week, over fears about the spread of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus. Though not particularly virulent, MERS has an extremely high fatality rate with 58 of the 136 people affected so far having died, 49 of them in Saudi Arabia. Cases of MERS have also been identified in countries including Jordan, France, Germany, Italy, Tunisia and Britain.
Scientists have identified the Hajj, where as many as 1.75 million foreign travelers live in close proximity before returning to their home countries, as a major potential flashpoint for the disease. Even in normal years, it’s quite common for pilgrims to return home the “Mecca cough.” More serious outbreaks like meningitis have also occurred.
One thing that worries authorities about MERS is that has an average incubation period of around 5 days, sometimes as long as two weeks, meaning that an infected traveler could easily return home from the Middle East without presenting any symptoms on arrival. Many will also be returning to relatively poor countries where disease monitoring is not as advanced.