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Caution Over New MERS Virus Warranted

Noting that WHO Director-General Margaret Chan recently “named the Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus — MERS-CoV or MERS for short — the greatest threat to world health today,” Laurie Garrett, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes in a CNN opinion piece, “But Hong Kong-born Chan can be forgiven a strong reaction. After all, she managed the response to SARS there in 2003, and MERS is a close genetic cousin.” She continues, “No doubt her sense of urgency also stems from the apparently high mortality rate,” which is above 50 percent. Garrett notes, “Both [viruses] cause acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS, and trigger reactions in the human immune system that are so severe, organs throughout the body are devastated” and “[b]oth viruses spread between people through close contact, putting family caregivers and health care workers at risk for infection.”

“Until researchers can determine what animal is the natural host of the virus, and how MERS spreads from the host to humans, each new outbreak is dangerous and mysterious,” Garrett writes, adding, “The science is still unfolding.” She continues, “Sadly, resources for confronting such outbreaks have decreased since the 2008 financial crisis, and MERS has emerged in one of the most difficult regions in the world. Were the virus to reach any of the refugee camps that house more than two million Syrian refugees, a genuine pandemic could ensue” (6/2).