June 17, 2013 – SAUDI ARABIA – Thirty-three people are dead from MERS, a coronavirus that the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling a “threat to the entire world”. MERS, for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, is a newly discovered virus that causes severe respiratory infection. There have been 58 laboratory-confirmed cases world-wide since the virus was discovered last September. Saudi Arabia claims about half of all cases of MERS. Some 30 people have died. Alarm bells are not over what has been MERS has done, but for what it has the potential to do. These statistics were published by WHO on June 14. On June 15th, three new cases and another death were advised, rendering daily WHO updates instantly out of date. By the time this story is published, numbers will rise. By June 17, Saudi Arabia has confirmed four more deaths. The bug is a variant of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a virus that emerged in Asia over a decade ago. That disease spread rapidly, infecting over 8,000 people and killing nearly 800 before mysteriously disappearing. Last year, the first case of this new virus was recorded when a Saudi man developed the infection and died. It was several months before a second man was stricken. Concerns arose that transmission would exponentially increase during the 2012 Hajj, when millions of Muslims made pilgrimage to the Saudi holy city of Mecca, but no outbreak occurred and alarm over the unnamed virus (simply called “SARS-like”) quieted. But it’s back in the news with two known cases of Mecca pilgrims falling fatally ill this year. In February, a British pilgrim died after infecting two family members.
In late May, a 66-year-old Tunisian man died after returning from a pilgrimage, and two of his children tested positive for the virus. Last month two new cases were reported in France. Patient #1 had traveled to Dubai, became ill and was hospitalized in France, where his hospital roommate picked up the bug. Cases have since been reported in Tunisia, Qatar, the United Kingdom, Germany, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates. Tough talk and decisive action can be effective tools when dealing with public health. So Margaret Chan, WHO secretary-general, grabbed a microphone and boldly announced that the coronavirus circulating mostly in the Middle East posed a “threat to the entire world.” And the news media took the bait. Is she overstating the threat? Chan from WHO was directly involved with the Asian SARS outbreak. She’s experienced in corralling world attention to scary epidemics. A case of “the girl who cried wolf”? Or a prudent early warning system to incite sober attention to an unpredictable new virus with far-reaching influence? She said, “We understand too little about this virus when viewed against the magnitude of its potential threat. 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 country can manage by itself.”
The virus continues to spread into new countries, raising concern ahead of the Islamic pilgrimage periods which will occur this summer and autumn. Most of the victims suffered from underlying medical conditions. The WHO says the virus spreads by means including interpersonal contact, and possibly via airborne transmission between people in closed quarters. It doesn’t appear to spread easily in communities at large, but what about transmission between travelers in airports and planes? Authorities believe initial transmission of the virus was from animal to human, but the animal source remains unidentified. The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control noted the many unanswered questions about the Middle East-based virus, issuing a statement saying, “It is unusual to have such a degree of uncertainty at this stage in an outbreak.” –Green Prophet
June 17, 2013 – SYRIA — A car bomb targeting a checkpoint near a military airport in an upscale neighborhood of the Syrian capital of Damascus killed 10 soldiers, activists said Monday, as President Bashar Assad’s troops pressed ahead with an offensive to regain territory lost to rebels trying to topple his government. The army has scored major victories in key battlefields in western and central Syria in the past weeks and is now setting its sights on the country’s largest city, Aleppo, in the north, parts of which have been opposition strongholds. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group, said 10 soldiers died in the attack Sunday night in Damascus’ Mazzeh area and 10 were wounded. The neighborhood houses several embassies and a military airport. Syrian state media confirmed there was a blast near the military airport late Sunday but did not release any casualty figures. At least 93,000 people have been killed in Syria’s conflict since it erupted in March 2011, according to a recent United Nations estimate. Earlier this month, Assad’s troops dealt a major blow to the opposition forces when they pushed the rebels out of the strategic town of Qusair with the help of Lebanon’s Shiite militant group, Hezbollah. The Damascus government is now looking to keep the momentum going and aims to take back control of Aleppo, the country’s commercial hub. The rebels captured parts of the city last summer. Troops clashed with rebels inside Aleppo and in the city’s outskirts on Monday, the Observatory said. It also reported an airstrike on the village of Douweirina, a stronghold of an Al Qaeda-affiliated group fighting on the opposition’s side. –LA Times
Thousands Gather for Protests in Brazil’s Largest Cities
SÃO PAULO, Brazil — Protesters showed up by the thousands in Brazil’s largest cities on Monday night in a remarkable display of strength for an agitation that had begun with small protests against bus-fare increases, then evolved into a broader movement by groups and individuals irate over a range of issues including the country’s high cost of living and lavish new stadium projects.CONTINUE
Evangelista Anita Fuentes