MERs Virus, Mecca
The MERS (Middle East Respiratory Virus) appeared this week in Mecca, the Muslim holy capital in Saudi Arabia. Officials confirmed 11 new cases of the virus within the nation this Wednesday; four surfaced in the capital of Riyadh, six appeared in Jeddah and one case was identified as MERS in Mecca. The outbreak has sparked significant concern as Ramadan approaches in July, with millions expected to travel to the holy city for the fasting holiday, and in October during the annual Haj.

This case illustrates the virus’ potential to travel far and wide. These cases increase the amount of identified MERS cases in Saudi Arabia to 272. Of the 272 cases, 81 of those afflicted have died.

The first case of MERS surfaced two years ago in the Middle East. It is related to the SARS virus, and causes heavy coughing, pneumonia and high-temperature fevers.

As public alarm increases, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has replaced Saudi health minister Abdullah al-Rabeeah with Labor Minister Adel Fakieh, who visited King Bahd hospital in Jeddah to observe those receiving treatment at the facility.

The virus’ deadly spread demands a race for a cure or vaccine. “Multiple vaccine developments are under way,” said Philip Dormitzer, the global chief of virology at Novartis Vaccines. However, experts say that though developing vaccines for the virus are feasible, “neither the market economy nor the vaccine development process is likely to report it.”

MERS is a serious threat to public health, not only in the Middle East, but on a global scale as well. The risk of its spread to other continents is deadly and very possible. Saudi Arabian officials must make efforts to quarantine those afflicted so as to reduce its expansion.

– Arielle Swett

Sources: National Geographic, Reuters
Photo: The West Side Story