Pilgrimage at Mecca
Researchers looking into the MERS-nCV virus that has claimed more than three dozen lives have concluded that at this point the disease does not pose a global pandemic threat in it’s present form. The research by scientists at the Pasteur Institute studied 55 cases of the disease looking at ‘the basic reproductive value’ that is the average number of people an infected person passes MERS-nCV to. They found that each infected person passed the virus to 0.69 people, so for every three infected patients would between them, on average pass the virus on to two more people. These levels are not high enough to start an epidemic.
Prof Arnaud Fontanet one of the lead researchers in a recent interview with the BBC:
The virus as it currently stands is not able to start an epidemic. My concern is that people read this and not worry about it, but the opposite is true. This is the perfect time to identify the animal host and stop it. Sars’ adaption to humans took just several months, whereas Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus has already been circulating more than a year in human populations without mutating into a pandemic form.
That doesn’t mean however that it won’y mutate into something more sinister. MERS-nCV is similar to the virus that causes the common cold. Viruses can and do mutate and there is no reason to think that this one will be any different.
Dr Benjamin Neuman of Reading university School of Biological Sciences is worried. In the same interview he said:
The authors have done their best to predict how Middle East respiratory syndrome will spread based on the few cases that we know about, and found that the virus appears to be slowly dying out, but other work has shown that the virus is changing, and that change makes it difficult to predict the future of Middle East respiratory syndrome.
What most concerns me is that people are still becoming infected from an unknown source.
In October it’s the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage of Muslims to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Between 3 and 4 million people attend the event each year. Taking a figure in the middle of that range, some 3,500,000 will arrive in Mecca between the 13th-18th October this year.
If just 0.1% of those people were infected or became infected,3,500 people would travel on airlines back to their homes all over the globe. If between now and then MERS-nCV does mutate and increase its basic reproductive values to that approaching those of the common cold whose rate is 3 as opposed to 0.69 the consequences would be disastrous.
Each infected person would on average infect 3 others, who would each infect three more and so on.
Unlike the common cold, MERS-nCV is slow burn, patients can be ill for months and this would have a very serious knock on effect for hospitals around the globe. Intensive care units would be filled with infective patients meaning those acutely ill people that needed a bed wouldn’t get one.
The 2009 nH1N1 (Swine flu) outbreak saw hospitals struggling to cope and that was with just a few thousand in each country requiring hospital admission.
It’s to be hoped that the low transmission rate of MERS causes the disease to die out. The longer it continues to simmer the more likely it is that it will mutate.
As with all respiratory viruses there are a few things you can do to reduce your chances of infection. As I have said in many articles if a disease doesn’t get into you, it can’t hurt you. Wash your hands often, cover cuts and grazes and avoid touching your nose and mouth with your fingers which are likely to be contaminated.
For those that will be travelling to the Arab Peninsula ( including the Hajj)The Indian Sub-continent and North Africa great care should be taken when handling paper money which is covered with every form of bacteria that has been collected from everyone who has handled the cash. The most common is faecal matter.
These regions have particularly virulent bacteria and viruses in the general population that your system will not cope with and that causes very serious illnesses in travellers on a very regular basis. NEVER let young children or anyone with any immunity issues handle paper money in these regions. In addition to the usual Delhi Belly/Montezuma’s Revenge type issues parasitic illnesses abound and often appear a couple of weeks after exposure leading to hospitalisation on your return.
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