There are believed to be millions of different types of viruses, of which humanity has studied only a few thousand. Given the massive gap between all of the viruses that exist and how many we have studied, it should come as no surprise then that new viruses pop up from time-to-time and can cause quite a lot of damage before anyone even realizes what’s going on.
The MERS-CoV was discovered in September of 2012 by an Egyptian virologist. A member of the Betacoronavirus family, the virus jumped over from a bat in Saudi Arabia. Betacoronaviruses are related to the coronaviruses, which is one of the many viruses that can cause the so-called “common cold.” While the common cold might cause a few days of annoyance, the MERS virus has been proving to be deadly and highly contagious.
MERS is considered a deadlier but less transmissible virus than its relative, the SARS virus that affected Asia in 2003. SARS affected nearly 9,000 people and killed almost ten percent of them before finally being brought under control and eradicated.
MERS spreading across the Middle East
So far, at least 68 people have died in Saudi Arabia with another 168 having been affected. Saudi Arabia has been the worst hit country and this past Sunday a foreigner of undisclosed nationality died within the country. Worse yet, the disease has been spreading beyond Saudi Arabia’s borders.
The first case of MERS was recently confirmed in Yemen, while the United Arab Emirtes (UAE) is also reporting that six Filipino paramedics have contracted the disease. So far, one of the Filipinos has died. Jordan has also confirmed cases of the disease.
Disease may be spread by camels
One theory for how the disease is spreading so quickly is that it is using camels to travel. The WHO has released this theory but has so far failed to explain how a virus that is believed to have started in bats is able to jump to camels and then humans. Some studies, however, suggest that the virus is already in camels and may have originated from them.
If the disease is using camels to travel, it is possible that the disease has already spread in remote areas that do not have access to medical care. Also, many of the people who have contracted the disease have been medical workers, suggesting that the disease may be more transmissible than previously thought, or that Saudi Arabia lacks the proper procedures and equipment for dealing with the disease.
Indeed, Saudi Arabia has been coming under increasing criticism for thus far failing to control the spread of the disease. Given that privacy is highly valued in Saudi Arabia and that society in general is highly segregated, it may be difficult to gain the upper hand on the disease.