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Preparing to combat the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus

Doctors are trying to figure out what is causing over half of individuals infected with MERS to die.
Doctors are trying to figure out what is causing over half of individuals infected with MERS to die.

Widespread health scares are issues businesses and local communities should prepare in advance to protect everyone's safety. Previously, this blog discussed how U.S. health officials warned visitors about contracting the Yosemite hantavirus.

Even though the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS) has not made an impact in the United States, it is similar to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) that killed one-tenth of the 8,000 individuals who became infected with it in 2002, according to NBC News. As of now, there is not a confirmed cure for MERS.

MERS' first case appeared in 2012 in Saudi Arabia, but has gained traction in recent months when people in seven other countries in Africa and Europe contracted the virus. Since the outbreak of MERS, 45 individuals have died, 39 of them coming from Saudi Arabia.

The fact that this many people died in Saudi Arabia raises concerns from the upcoming pilgrimage season. Saudi Arabia is a popular destination in the summer for Ramadan and in October for the Hajj. About 3.4 million Muslims around the world visit the famous mosques in Mecca and Medina. Out of that number, 11,000 Americans participate in these religious rituals.

Because of these upcoming events, the World Health organization (WHO) started a committee that will dedicate its time finding possible solutions to combat MERS. The WHO can confirm that these cases occurred from human-to-human interaction.

This differs from SARS, which spread through bat-to-human transmission. However, bats have not been ruled out as an option because MERS is similar to SARS. The Saudi Ministry of Health took samples from 500 different bats last October and is still waiting for those results, according to the New York Times.

"As long as it is around, it has every opportunity at the genetic roulette table to turn into something more dangerous," Michael Osterholm, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Minnesota, told the Weather Channel.

What makes MERS tricky to diagnose and track is that some patients may not show symptoms immediately, whereas others have severe coughs, fevers or rapid kidney failure, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Business continuity consultants can help cities and towns prepare actions to take if a foreign illness enters their area.