Warning out about new, deadly virus

Medical Watch
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A new and deadly virus emerges from the Middle East, and it’s on the move. World Health officials say it’s a threat to the entire world.

Looking at the overall global situation, Margaret Chan, director of the World Health Organization, said her greatest concern right now is the coronavirus. She couldn’t have been any clearer — a new respiratory virus has emerged, and experts are scrambling to figure it out.

Chan said, “Any new disease that is emerging faster than our understanding is never under control. These are alarm bells and we must respond. The novel coronavirus is not a problem that any single affected country can keep to itself or manage all by itself. The novel coronavirus is a threat to the entire world.”

CaptureWorld Health Organization officials have reluctantly named it Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus, or MERS-CoV, but, they warn, don’t let the name fool you. While all cases have been linked to the Middle East – patients either lived there, had travelled there or were in close contact with an infected person who’d been there – officials say it’s too early to determine the true origin of the virus.

Dr. Stacy Raviv, NorthShore University HealthSystem pulmonary and critical care specialist: “So far, the bulk of reported cases have been in the Middle East. That’s all the medical community has identified. That doesn’t mean there aren’t unidentified cases.”

What they do know? It is spreading now — a case confirmed in Italy. Also disturbing, the fatality rate for confirmed infections with the virus has been more than 55 percent. Fifty-three documented cases — 30 patients have died. NorthShore University HealthSystem pulmonary and critical care specialist Dr. Stacy Raviv says that doesn’t mean this virus is more deadly than others.

Dr. Raviv: “People who come with very mild illnesses are less likely to get diagnosed. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t a lot of people out there. It may very well be that the vast majority of the cases are mild illnesses. We’re just not identifying them.”

Symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath, breathing difficulties and gastro-intestinal problems — similar symptoms to other infections.

Dr. Raviv: “My advice for this particular illness would be no different than my advice for any other respiratory illness. If a patient is having difficulty breathing, she should call a physician.”

Most patients diagnosed so far with MERS-CoV have declined rapidly into kidney failure and pneumonia. Dr. Raviv says she doesn’t feel there is a need to panic.

Dr. Raviv: “Infectious diseases that cause respiratory illness are going to disproportionately affect people who already have other illnesses. Given at this point we have zero confirmed cases in North America it’s not at the top of my list of concerns.”

Human-to-human transmission seems to happen after sustained daily close contact – not casual contact.

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