Monday, May 05, 2014

CDC watches new respiratory virus (MERS) from Middle East carefully; man in Indiana seems to be recovering

A case of Middle Eastern Respiratory Virus (MERS, a coronavirus) has been reported in a man in Indiana, after he appeared at a community hospital in Munster, essentially a distant Chicago suburb.  The man had been in Saudi Arabia.
USA Today reports that he is improving, here. The CDC reports here. The patient is in quarantine. However the infection is thought to live in camels and to have jumped to humans.  It seems less contagions person-to-person than was SARS.  But there seems to be no vaccine and no progress toward one.  In the Middle East MERS had a high fatality rate, as did SARS.
Very aggressive social distancing policies in China and then in the US when there was a case in 2003 did control SARS.  But it seems that if an infection like this that was transmissible person-to-person “got out” it could shut down most non-essential business in a city quickly through “social distancing” policies.  That sort of scenario was sometimes discussed with smallpox after 9/11. 

Update: May 13

There is a second case in Orlando FL, and the TSA is beginning to alert travelers.  A few health care workers in Orlando are in precautionary isolation (at least two, who have tested negative)/  There is another case in the Netherlands.

Update: May 16

Vox Media has a balanced perspective on MERS here.  The possibility of mutation is worth noting. But it's also likely there are many (even a large majority of) mild or even asymptomatic cases that go undetected, and that the actual death rate would be orders of magnitude lower.  If that;s true, exposure of the general population, to build up resistance, might be a good thing.

Update: May 17 

A person in Illinois has tested positive for MERS.  The person was in a business meeting with one of the index cases from Saudi Arabia and shook hands, a meeting that lasted 40 minutes.  The person met briefly the next day.  The person does not now have live virus and had exhibited only mild cold-like symptoms.  It is beginning to look like many natural infections, maybe most, are mild.  The CNN story (and another video) are here.

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