We Knew It When: Back in March 2013, DR reported on the discovery of a new SARS-related virus being called novel coronavirus or NCoV. Spread of the virus, which was first identified in Saudi Arabia, was small scale at the time, having only infected 15 people.
What was more worrisome were reports that the Saudi Government had sought to suppress information regarding the disease and had even sanctioned the physician who discovered it for logging its symptoms into the proMED infectious disease database.
A Virus by Any Other Name: Fast forward to the present and that virus is better known as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS. Since it was discovered, more than 1,300 people have been infected by the disease and nearly 40 percent of those have died, according to the World Health Organization. Although MERS has been mostly contained in Saudi Arabia, travelers have spread the disease to at least 25 other countries.
Recently, an outbreak in South Korea has been especially concerning. Since the first case was diagnosed in late May, the country has reported 169 infections and 25 deaths, making it the largest outbreak in any country outside of Saudi Arabia.
Although South Korean doctors were slow in identifying the original case, the country has since taken aggressive measures such as closing schools and quarantining thousands of people who came into contact with those infected, according to the New York Times.
Calling It By Name: While WHO Chief Margaret Chan said South Korea was now “on a very good footing” in combating the disease, the failure to initially diagnose it shows that after years of battling the deadly illness, the world hasn’t gotten much better at communicating symptoms and risks.
“There was a lack of awareness about MERS both among health providers and also the general public in the Republic of Korea before the MERS outbreak occurred there, so it really took everybody by surprise,” WHO Assistant Director General Keiji Fukuda said in a news conference. “This probably contributed somewhat to a delay in knowing what was going on.”
That is unfortunate. Because there is no cure for MERS (laughable claims from North Korea aside), awareness and prevention are the only real defenses available to fight the spread.