The MERS corona-virus currently spreading across the Middle East may have gone global, or at the very least hopped over to South East Asia. A recently returned Malaysian man who had recently undergone a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia died from MERS. The government is now on high alert and is monitoring his village closely.

MERS virus

Many Muslims undertake pilgrimages to the Middle East in order to visit Mecca and other Islamic holy sites. Indeed, the Quran says that all those with the financial resources should visit Mecca at least once in their lifetime. This sort of rite of passage has been undertaken by millions of Muslims. This spiritual journey of faith, however, could now become an avenue for the deadly MERS disease to spread.

MERS is a highly virulent disease that infects the respiratory system. Over 60% of those who contract the infection die. The origin of the disease is not certain, but it appears to have jumped into humans from either bats or camels. The disease has claimed at least 93 people since being discovered in September of 2012. The last month has seen a spike in the number of cases reported.

High risk of MERS spreading across globe

With MERS spreading across Saudi Arabia and the Middle East, however, this time-honored pilgrimage tradition could quickly become an avenue for the disease to spread globally. Muslims can now be found in large numbers on just about every continent. South Asia and South East Asia, for example, are actually home to more Muslims than the Middle East itself.

Of course, Muslim communities in most countries live in contact with other communities, so once pilgrims return from the Middle East, new communities will be exposed. The pilgrim patterns of Muslims thus could deliver the disease to peoples who have never traveled to the Middle East.

Migrant workers also at risk

Many people from across Asia travel to the Middle East for work. With immigrants pouring in from India, Bangladesh, and the Philippines, the risk of the disease making its way into Asia is quite high. Further, given the huge population density in places like India and Bangladesh, the disease could spread quickly and claim a large number of lives.

Indeed, at least one Filipino worker has already been put in isolationist after testing positive for MERS. Thailand has issued a warning to its citizens and hospitals, while Singapore is keeping a close eye out for any signs that the disease could be spreading.