Saudi Arabia continues to announce new deaths from a lethal outbreak of a mysterious new novel coronavirus (NCoV) in the Middle East. The new virus is a cousin of the SARS virus that causes kidney failure and pneumonia. To date, 16 of the 24 that have been infected have died. The virus, named Middle East respiratory symptom coronavirus, or MERS-CoV, has been reported in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and the U.K. (two members from a British family caught the virus from a relative who had been travelling through Saudi Arabia). The World Health Organization (WHO) does not yet know how the virus is transmitted nor how widespread it has, or will, become. Genetic sequencing shows that nCoV is most closely related to a bat virus. But worried health workers still don’t know where the virus comes from.
Saudi Arabian officials attempted to calm public fears:
“All precautionary measures for persons who have been in contact with the infected people… and has taken samples from them to examine if they are infected.”
Recall that in 2002-2003 over 750 people died of SARS, which comes from the same family as novel coronavirus. Chinese officials covered up SARS for months, suppressing data, the location of outbreaks and access to patients by the World Health Organization, all in the hope of preventing public panic.
UPDATE 5/31/13: Thus far, 49 cases have been reported with over half of those infected succumbing to the mysterious virus. The World Health Organization is already saying that the virus could be “a threat to the entire world”. So far, a majority of the cases have all come out of the Arabian Peninsula, but health experts from the WHO say infections are now starting to show up in other areas of the world. At the same time, Health officials in Alabama are reporting a mysterious new respiratory illness that has killed two people in southeast Alabama and caused five other hospitalizations. Local health officials have no idea what this disease is or where it originated.
Update 10/10/13: New scientific research released today and notes:
“Our analysis suggests that an evolutionary lineage leading to the current MERS-CoV co-evolved with bat hosts for an extended time period, eventually jumping species boundaries to infect humans, perhaps through an intermediate host.”
And where do they believe the MERS virus evolved from? It is believed the virus evolved from bats before making the jump to humans.
Update 3/2/14: The United States has reported its first case of a new virus found in the Middle East, in a traveler from the region, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. Experts say it was only a matter of time before it came to the United States. The CDC says the infected patient was a healthcare worker who traveled from Saudi Arabia to Indiana. The CDC reported:
“On April 24, the patient traveled by plane from Saudi Arabia to London, then from London to Chicago,” the CDC said. “The patient then took a bus from Chicago to Indiana. On the 27th, the patient began to experience signs of illness, including shortness of breath and coughing. The patient went to an emergency department on April 28th. Because of the patient’s symptoms and travel history, Indiana public health officials had him tested for MERS.”
Update 5/17/14: A business associate of the man who carried the first reported case to the United States, has also tested positive for the virus making him the third reported MERS virus case in the U.S.