Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is a killer, and it’s spreading to every corner of the globe. Last year, the head of the World Health Organization warned that MERS was a “threat to the entire world,” and that caution is looking remarkably prescient now. For the first time, the virus—which has a 50 percent fatality rate and spreads through close human contact—has landed stateside. America’s patient zero checked in to an Indiana hospital late last month, after presumably contracting the disease on a recent visit to Saudi Arabia. The CDC reports:
On April 24, the patient traveled by plane from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to London, England then from London to Chicago, Illinois. The patient then took a bus from Chicago to Indiana. On the 27th, the patient began to experience respiratory symptoms, including shortness of breath, coughing, and fever. The patient went to an emergency department in an Indiana hospital on April 28th and was admitted on that same day. The patient is being well cared for and is isolated; the patient is currently in stable condition. Because of the patient’s symptoms and travel history, Indiana public health officials tested for MERS-CoV. The Indiana state public health laboratory and CDC confirmed MERS-CoV infection in the patient this afternoon. […]CDC and Indiana health officials are not yet sure how the patient became infected with the virus. Exposure may have occurred in Saudi Arabia, where outbreaks of MERS-CoV infection are occurring. Officials also do not know exactly how many people have had close contact with the patient.
This is scary and serious stuff. A recent outbreak of MERS in Saudi Arabia lost the country’s health minister his job, and since then we’ve seen the disease wend its way across the world, to Southeast Asia, Greece, and now the U.S. As millions of Muslims from all over the world make the pilgrimage to Mecca in the coming months, the odds are good that we’ll see MERS in many more countries.