A new respiratory virus that originated in the Middle East may be more deadly than the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002, according to reports from Saudi Arabian doctors.
More than 60 cases and 38 deaths have been cause by the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in the past year, according to the World Health Organization. While there are some resemblances between MERS and SERS, the new virus seems to have no origin and has baffled scientists.
Some hypothesize that infected bats may be contaminating dates, a fruit commonly harvested and eaten in Saudi Arabia.
What scientists do know is that the virus spreads easily between people within hospitals, and that close contact is not always necessary for the virus to infect another host.
In a striking difference between the two viruses, MERS has a 65 percent fatality rate, while only 8 percent of SERS carriers died.
"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, said.
Dr. Trish Perl, a senior hospital epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Medicine, added that under the right circumstances the spread could be explosive.
The World Health Organization will meet in Cairo to discuss guidelines for next month’s Ramaden, when millions of Muslims will be visiting Saudi Arabia.