The World Health Organization (WHO), the people who helped bring you Beijing's new smoking ban, has confirmed the first case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). If you liked Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), you'll love MERS.
MERS-CoV is a viral respiratory infection caused by the newly identified MERS-coronavirus (also known as MERS-CoV). It is a betacoronavirus derived from bats: the first patient was diagnosed in London in 2012, whose virus had a 100 percent match to Egyptian tomb bats. However, cases in the Middle East suggested that the disease was first spread through camels. Details about camel-to-human transmission are unavailable as of now.
"The virus does not seem to pass easily from person to person unless there is close contact. There is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission," according to the WHO statement. So far, we are looking at total of 1,139 confirmed cases, with 431 deaths across 24 countries, according to a Reuters report.
China's Patient Zero for MERS-CoV is a national from the Republic of Korea in his mid-40s, and a close contact of a confirmed MERS-CoV case in the Republic of Korea. The patient traveled to Guangdong province via Hong Kong on Tuesday May 26. He is currently in hospital in Huizhou, and is in a stable condition and being cared for well, WHO said in an emailed statement.
Local officials are tracing passengers who have been in contact with him. None of the 38 people who had been in close contact with him have displayed any symptoms of the disease following testing, The South China Morning Post reported.
For people living in China, the WHO suggests that people with diabetes, renal failure, chronic lung disease, and immunocompromized persons are at a high risk, and should avoid close contact with animals, particularly camels, and farms and markets where the disease is potentially circulating. Regular hand washing before and after touching animals is also recommended, and people should avoid drinking raw camel milk or camel urine. Regular hand washing is recommended, full stop. Learn how to wash your hands effectively here.
Symptoms are similar to SARS, the viral respitory illness that held the world in fear in late 2002 and early 2003. The first patient had a seven-day history of fever, cough, expectoration, and shortness of breath. One case study estimated an incubation period of five and a half days.
Hong Kong, also a former SARS epicenter, is also battling the fear. They have quarantined 18 people who came into contact with the Korean patient. The Chinese government is currently still tracking down approximately 200 people who are known to have been in contact with the passenger, the BBC reported. However, we have not yet received any WHO confirmation of this case.
Health officials in Hong Kong suggest that the disease should be dealt with more stringently, by punishing travelers who lie about their health. China and its neighbors will not have forgotten the 2003 SARS epidemic, which originated in Guangdong in November 2002, and left Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Toronto paralyzed. Worldwide, a total of 8,098 people were diagnosed between November 2002 and July 2003. Of all of these confirmed cases, a total of 774 people died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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