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MERS 'unlikely' to create SARS-like death toll, health officials say

World Health Organization says MERS threat to Muslim pilgrims at the hajj in Mecca this October 'very low.'

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Saudi nurses walk past two men outside the King Fahad hospital in Hofuf, Saudi Arabia, on June 16, 2013. (FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)

MERS, or the Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, is unlikely to cause an SARS-like death toll, scientists said on Friday.

Although the two diseases are related, MERS isn’t spreading as quickly and is having trouble passing between humans, Reuters reported.

“It is very unlikely any epidemic will ensue. The public needs to be reassured,” said Prof. Ali Zumla of University College London. “MERS is unlikely to spread as rapidly, and therefore also unlikely to kill as many people (as SARS).”

New findings were published on Friday in The Lancet.

MERS has killed 45 people of the 90 confirmed cases since last year, mostly in Saudi Arabia. While that is an extremely significant mortality rate – and it has spread to Europe and Africa – the disease isn’t spreading nearly as fast as SARS did.

Those who have died experience fever, cough, and shortness of breath, the Center for Disease Control said. There have been no cases reported in North America.

SARS – or severe acute respiratory syndrome – infected thousands and killed an estimated 800 people worldwide after emerging from China a decade ago.

While scientists suggest that MERS might just die out, there is still reason for concern.

The disease can cause kidney failure and attacks patients quicker; there is still no word on the source of the disease, Saudi Arabia’s deputy minister for public health said.

“Reducing the rate of introduction of MERS coronavirus into human beings is unpredictable because the source of the virus is not yet known,” Prof. Ziad Memish, told BBC News. “We are searching vigorously for the source.”

There had been some concern MERS would spread quickly, then get redistributed worldwide, as millions of pilgrims arrived in Mecca for the hajj this October.

Yet, the World Health Organization said the risk of infection was “very low,” the Associated Press reported. 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/health/130726/mers-unlikely-create-sars-death-toll-saudi-mecca-hajj