An article in the news caught my eye today when I noticed that The World Health Organization (WHO) called an emergency meeting to discuss the infectious disease known as MERS (Middle East Respiratory virus, formerly known as nCoV). This is only the second time that the WHO has called an emergency meeting, the first being in 2009 with the H1N1 bird flu virus.
While the name is complicated the biggest issue is that this VIRUS has only been identified in the past year. It was identified in 2012 as a novel coronavirus and is similar to the SARS virus from a decade ago. This virus which also causes a respiratory illness has been confirmed in 55 patients mainly from the Middle East. There have been a few cases reported in travelers from other countries ( France, UK, Italy and Tunisia) who had been to the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has had 40 reported cases. The alarming fact is that 31 of the 55 cases have died.
Now you may wonder why this really interests me??? I am always interested in emerging infectious diseases and how this infection might make its way to the U.S. as all doctors need to stay abreast about new infections. But, coincidentally, I have just returned from overseas and 2 days later, I have an upper respiratory infection and cough. Now, I really do FEEL OKAY but as I have reminded people before infectious diseases are just a plane ride away. You can never really know how you may contract a viral illness and the MER-S virus has been found to have human-to-human transmission.
The WHO still does not know the original source or route of the virus that caused human illness. This again reiterates the importance of vaccines and disease prevention!!!! While there is not a vaccine (to date) for MERS, there are plenty of vaccines that when given are working well to prevent communicable diseases. (another reason to vaccinate your child!)
So.....I am going to be watching for further updates from the WHO and CDC about this virus......and in the meantime I will keep drinking fluids, and covering my mouth when I cough. I will say my trip was really fun!!