MERS Coronavirus: Tracking the Outbreak

Image credit: Andrew Lynch, ABC News

The ABC News medical team reports on the outbreak of a novel virus as it unfolds.

Saudi Teen Contracts Deadly Virus June 5 Katie Moisse (@katiemoisse)

A 14-year-old Saudi girl is the latest victim of the MERS coronavirus spreading through the Middle East and parts of Europe, the World Health Organization said today.

The girl, who suffered from underlying medical conditions, developed symptoms of the virus one week ago, according to the agency. She is said to be in stable condition.

At least 54 people have contracted the virus, which emerged in April 2012. Thirty people have died.

Learn More About the History of the MERS Coronavirus

The median age of patients is 56 years, according to the latest data from WHO, which does not include the 14-year-old girl. Many of the patients had underlying medical conditions that may have made them more vulnerable.

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The Search for Clues in Clusters June 4 Katie Moisse (@katiemoisse)

At least 54 people have contracted the MERS coronavirus since April 2012, according to health officials who are looking for clues in seven disease clusters.

The first cluster of two cases occurred near Amman, Jordan, in April 2012, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The second cluster occurred six months later in Saudi Arabia, where three family members tested positive for the virus. Two of them died.

Learn More About the MERS Coronovirus and How You Can Protect Yourself

Since February 2013, five more clusters have been reported in the U.K., France, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia again. The largest cluster of 23 cases has been linked to a Saudi health care facility, according to the CDC. Eleven people in that cluster have died.

The clusters provide evidence of human-to-human transmission, according to investigators who are still scrambling to find the source of the outbreak. All of the cases have ties to the Middle East, according to the World Health Organization.

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MERS Coronavirus Cases, Fatalities Mount June 3 Katie Moisse (@katiemoisse)

Eight countries have reported MERS coronavirus infections as the number of cases and fatalities continues to mount. Italy confirmed its first case Saturday as a 45-year-old man who had recently traveled to Jordan, and Saudi Arabia reported three more deaths Sunday. All of the cases have ties to the Middle East, according to the World Health Organization .

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Three More Deaths in Saudi Arabia June 2 Katie Moisse (@katiemoisse)

A new virus is spreading in the Middle East and parts of Europe. (Image credit: Reuters)

Saudi health officials say three more people have died from the MERS coronavirus, bringing the death toll in Saudi Arabia to 24. The country has seen the highest number of MERS cases since the outbreak started last year, with 38 known infections.

Infections have also emerged in Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Italy. All of the cases have ties to the Middle East, according to the World Health Organization.

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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.

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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."

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Death Toll Growing May 30 Katie Moisse ( @KatieMoisse)

A new virus spreading through the Middle East has claimed three more lives, according to Saudi health officials, bringing the death toll to 30.

At least 50 people have been sickened by the virus, newly-dubbed MERS-CoV for "Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus." The majority of cases have clustered in Saudi Arabia. But infections have also emerged in 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.

A Frenchman, who became ill after travelling to Dubai, died earlier this week roughly one month after being hospitalized with respiratory symptoms. His roommate at the hospital also contracted the virus, reaffirming suspicions that MERS-CoV can be passed from person-to-person.

Frenchman Dies From SARS-Like Virus

The virus has also spread through a health care facility Al-Ahsa, Saudi Arabia, where at least 22 patients have been sickened and 10 have died. In light of such cases, doctors on Wednesday recommended quarantining patients for at least 12 days.

Until recently, MERS-CoV was known widely as the "SARS-like virus" because of its semblance to the deadly SARS virus, which a decade ago sickened more than 8,000 people and killed 774. But experts caution that while both viruses can cause pneumonia and organ failure, MERS-CoV appears to spread less readily than SARS - so far.

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Remembering SARS May 30 Richard Besser ( @DrRichardBesser)

In 2003 I was working in the Bacterial Respiratory Diseases Branch at CDC when SARS hit. At first, no one knew what was causing the outbreak. Then the CDC identified a coronavirus as the cause of SARS. I remember the intensity of activity and fear that outbreak engendered. Here was a new virus rapidly spreading around the world, spreading within hospitals, infecting and killing previously healthy people, many of them young. No one knew how far it would spread and how many would be killed. Then, almost miraculously, as quickly as it appeared, it vanished. The WHO received reports of 8,096 cases and 774 deaths from 29 countries.

Now another corona virus has appeared. Unlike SARS, this is spreading much slower. The first case was identified in April 2012 and to date there have been 50 cases and 30 deaths. The majority of cases have occurred in Saudi Arabia. All patients either traveled to the Middle East or had close contact with someone who did. There is evidence of transmission within hospitals, but it has not been determined how community transmission is occurring. According to CDC, the MERS coronavirus is most similar to coronaviruses seen in bats.

At this point, there is not much that the public needs to do. If you are traveling to the Middle East, check out t he precautions recommended by the CDC. Basically, they recommend following standard practices to avoid infections: frequent hand washing, avoiding close contact with sick people. In addition avoid contact with wildlife. If you travel to the Middle East and develop any flu like symptoms (fever, chills, muscle aches) tell your doctor where you have been so you can be tested.

The CDC is working with health departments to increase their awareness of this outbreak so that they can quickly identify cases in the United States. That is a critical step in containing the spread of new diseases.

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