Several Southeast Asian nations are on high alert after a Malaysian man who made a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia died of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. The only other reported case so far is a Filipino who had been working in the United Arab Emirates, and who remains under quarantine. With the disease’s death toll rising in the Middle East, the news that it has spread beyond that region is cause for serious alarm. Though tests are still ongoing, none of the Malaysian victim’s friends and family, nor the health-care workers who ministered to him, have yet tested positive for the disease.The WSJ reports:
Health officials say there is no known cure for MERS and they have little information about the origins of the virus and how it is transmitted. The World Health Organization has confirmed 243 cases that include 93 deaths since it was discovered in September 2012.More than 60 new cases—about one-fourth of the global total since MERS was identified–have been reported in the past month and about half of the new cases have afflicted health workers.In Thailand, the Public Health Ministry has urged “every area, hospital and clinic to adopt the highest level of control and prevention of the spread of germs as they did during the SARS outbreak,” referring to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, a pneumonia-like disease that struck in 2003. SARS caused widespread fear around the world and killed nearly 800 people and infected more than 8,000 after it surfaced in China.
Malaysia is monitoring residents of the deceased man’s village and screening at-risk citizens at health centers. That village is not far from Malaysia’s border with Singapore, which is also on the lookout for suspected cases but has reported none so far.MERS could spark fears of a global pandemic much as SARS did a decade ago. Let’s hope its progress can be arrested before it proves as deadly as the previous scourge.