Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Mers-Cov and The Hajj: Recipe for worldwide disaster?

As millions of Muslims have descended on the city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia to take part in the Hajj,  concern has been growing throughout the medical community that the novel MERS-CoV coronavirus could spread through the tightly packed crowd of pilgrims leading many to return home and spread the virus to many points around the globe.
MERS-CoV is a virus related to SARS that has been brewing inside Saudi Arabia for the past year. It is a ferocious virus with a death rate of close to 60%.Those who survive do so with lingering kidney and lung damage.   There is no vaccine or cure for the disease.
What makes this disease even more troubling is the long time between the time one first becomes infected and the onset of symptoms. This lag time could be as much as two weeks. During this time patients may have no symptoms but can possibly infect others, a concern especially relevant in the case of this week's Hajj. Concerns are that these asymptomatic carriers will be able to return back to their countries unsuspected and spread the virus imperceptibly among the population. There are guidelines in place at many airports that screen those returning from the pilgrimage for cough, fever and other signs of infection but will not catch does who, while infected are not currently exhibiting symptoms.
So keep an eye out the next 2-3 weeks for reports of clusters of sickness and death from various locations around the globe. If it's MERS-CoV, the world will have a serious problem on its hands.