The dangerous MERS coronavirus continues to spread across the Middle East, with the most recent case in Oman. And while experts were expecting an epidemic to threaten thousands of people in the region and the world, the virus is still contained to the Arabian Peninsula, where it was first detected.
The latest laboratory-confirmed case of MERS is in a 59-year-old man in Oman, according to a report from the World Health Organization. The man was hospitalized in North Batinha Governorate on 24th December, after suffering from cough, shortness of breath and fever. On 28th December, he was diagnosed with pneumonia and died two days later. The confirmation for MERS-CoV was made on 1st January, after laboratory testing. Oman’s health authorities haven’t reported other cases, but the fact that an exact diagnosis was made after the patient’s death is disturbing, according to experts. Proper testing and infection prevention and control should be implemented in the countries, reported the most cases – Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Oman.
The total number of MERS-CoV infections has reached 178, including 75 deaths, says WHO. Unlike SARS, which caused an outbreak in 2003, the new virus seems to be quite deadly, with mortality rate of over 40 percent. However, it is far less contagious than SARS, which means it probably won’t spread to thousands of people. The big test was the annual Hajj pilgrimage, when nearly 2 million people gathered this October in Mecca, according to official statistics. Infectious disease experts feared that travelling pilgrims might spread the virus, causing outbreaks in some of the world’s mega-cities across South Asia and Africa. For Dr. Christian Drosten, a coronavirus expert at University of Bonn Institute of Virology, the biggest surprise of 2013 was that MERS didn’t leave the region. Dr. Anthony Mounts, leading MERS expert at WHO also says that the disease hasn’t such a potential and an explosive outbreak is not expected.
However, experts remind that the virus is constantly mutating. At any point, it can change and become more easily spread from one person to the next. Another concern is that still little is known about the virus. Where it came from? Researchers believe that it first occurred in domesticated camels and later it was transmitted to humans. Other studies have shown that MERS originates from bats. These are only some of the questions that need to be answered, say experts, and although the virus isn’t currently posing a global threat, it can easily mutate and surprisingly infect thousands of people.