Will MERS Become Another SARS?

The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012, has taken hold in South Korea, where over 1,800 schools have so far shut down, thousands have been quarantined in hospitals and homes, and six have died, with many more fatalities expected.

MERS was first identified in 2012 in Saudi Arabia, which to date remains ground zero for this highly infectious corona virus—derived from the same family as SARS.

To date, Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Development has issued no travel warning for South Korea, despite the fact it now has the second-highest number of MERS infections in the world after Saudi Arabia. According to the World Health Organization, South Korea’s new cases brings  the  total of infected individuals worldwide to over 1,200, with at least 445 related deaths.

For many Canadians, South Korea has become a quite prominent travel destination. The Conference Board of Canada reports that in the first quarter of 2015, Canadians made 34,620 trips to that nation, 14.1 per cent more than in the first quarter of 2014.

Other countries in the region are taking these rising figures with great concern. Malaysia and Singapore have postponed all school trips to South Korea. The quarantine office at Japan’s Narita Airport has ordered all planes incoming from South Korea to make inflight announcements that anybody who might have been in company with MERS patients, or been in a hospital with MERS patients, must report to quarantine officials.

In the meantime, South Korean authorities have begun tracking cellphone traffic of more than 2,300 individuals who may have been in contact with patients—many of whom are in hospitals or at home.

According to the CDC, MERS has many characteristics of SARS in that it affects the respiratory system, with symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath, and  so far, about 30 to 40 per cent of those reported to have MERS have died.

Being mindful that these early reports mimic the early reports of SARS, which had a deep effect on Canada, especially hospitals in Toronto in 2003, we’ll keep you posted on a frequent basis.

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