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The Triangle - The Independent Student Newspaper at Drexel University

Controlling MERS’s spread

Many students on this campus probably still remember the horrors of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or, as it’s commonly referred to, SARS. Originating in China in early 2003, the epidemic disease spread throughout the world and infected over 8,000 people within months.
Symptoms were generally similar to the flu, including high fever, muscle pain, heavy coughs, but with a significantly higher fatality rate, about 10 percent. SARS is an airborne disease that easily infected people worldwide through air travel. Moreover, scared people spread rumors that SARS was an unidentified epidemic that kills patients instantly. Fortunately, the disease did not intensify after 2003, and it was gradually forgotten.

The reason I am discussing the forgotten epidemic disease is a new epidemic disease, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, which has recently appeared. As its name suggests, the disease originated in the Middle East, specifically the Arabian Peninsula. Although the epidemic itself was identified in 2012, the recent infection rate sharply increased starting in early May.
According to a recent report, nearly 500 people have been infected from MERS. The shocking part is the fatality rate, which is triple that of SARS. Even scarier is that the disease is in the very early part of spreading. Now, even experts cannot speculate how this disease will turn out. However, considering the initial fatality rate and similarity with SARS, it is highly likely that the outcome will be devastating.

Consequently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are critically concerned that MERS can spread worldwide including to the U.S. Recently, two Americans were infected by MERS; fortunately, the disease was not fatal. Although the two patients are not directly linked, they both recently traveled to Saudi Arabia. Therefore, it is advised that if similar symptoms appear after traveling to the region, one should immediately contact a health clinic. As a matter of fact, the disease is still in an early stage of infection, so even the CDC does not know for certain that is where the disease comes from. The most likely suspect in this case is camels, just as SARS spread from wild cats. Unsurprisingly, there is no vaccine.

In my opinion, the timing is the worst part of this disease. On June 12, the World Cup will be open in Brazil. The World Cup is one of the most renowned sporting events, one that will attract millions of people worldwide to visit South America. A combination of the deadly epidemic disease and the global sports event is simply not good. Regarding the case of SARS, the disease was spreading after the 2002 World Cup and before the 2004 Athens Olympics. Therefore, the disease was not too severe. Unfortunately, in such a condensed space as a soccer stadium, MERS can easily spread with close contact. After the World Cup, the disease will spread worldwide, not contained to certain continents. Still, the current level of the CDC’s travel notice is two, so it is just recommended to practice enhanced precautions.

Still, I wouldn’t hastily judge that the pandemic disease is upon us. I am simply noting that circumstances around this epidemic are not favorable, so caution is necessary. The CDC and World Health Organization are keeping close eyes on this epidemic disease. Therefore, even in case of emergency, the experts will provide reliable solutions.

Alex Cho is a sophomore political science major at Drexel University. He can be contacted at op-ed@thetriangle.org.