The Sentinel & Enterprise of Fitchburg (Mass.), May 16, 2014
The menacing acronyms come across the national and international news feeds at a steady beat. This month, it's MERS, or Middle East respiratory syndrome. Before that, it was SARS, severe acute respiratory virus and MRSA, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.
What they have in common is that they are deadly, and they are surpassing the medical field's ability to tame them with the current stable of drugs and antibiotics.
The newest of them, MERS, has been on the global medicine radar since 2012, when it was discovered and identified in Saudi Arabia. The virus kept a relatively low profile there, affecting just a few people. That changed abruptly, however, when the virus started being transmitted to the medical workers who were treating its few victims. Of the 401 cases that have been reported worldwide, a majority share of them have appeared in 2014.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 30 percent of those who come down with the virus succumb to its effects of causing fever, cough and respiratory distress.
What's most troubling is that it has been detected in the United States. The CDC reports a traveler from Saudi Arabia was diagnosed with MERS after his return to Indiana. He is being hospitalized, but health officials are now left with the task of finding every person with whom he had contact on the long airliner flight from the Middle East.
As more "superbugs" are identified and move across continents and hop on airliners to cross oceans, public health officials will have to remain vigilant to curb their progress. Those of us not in the public health arena also have to be aware of the risks and signs of such diseases. In addition, those who are on a regimen of antibiotics must complete the prescription to doctors' orders, because failure to do so increases the risk of creating new resistant diseases.
In the long term, more research will be needed to find the next line of defense against the ever-more-potent viruses that have humans as their hosts. Failure to do so will put the public's health at greater risk.