On 22 April 2013, Daniel Lucey, an expert on global virus outbreaks, delivered the final CIRS Monthly Dialogue at Georgetown University – School of Foreign Service in Qatar for the 2012-2013 academic year.
Giving some background into coronavirus epidemics, Lucey explained that the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus first appeared in 2002 in southeast China. He recalled that “by the first half of 2003, the SARS coronavirus had spread to 29 nations on five continents,” largely through air travel.
The virus initially spread through hospitals as infected patients transmitted the disease to medical staff who in turn infected family members. The contagion had a 10 percent fatality rate; out of the approximately 8,000 people who were diagnosed, 800 people died.
Due to the large percentage of fatalities, the Chinese government received heavy criticism for their handling of the situation, but, according to Lucey, because this was such a novel disease that spread at such a rapid pace, it could not have been predicted, nor easily halted.
In the Middle East, a novel coronavirus appeared in Jordan in 2012 and spread to medical staff at a hospital and some of their family members in much the same pattern as the SARS and H1N1 viruses were transmitted. It was first identified, however, in a patient in Saudi Arabia. The virus was then also reported to have infected patients in Qatar and the UAE.
Lucey maintained that “by genetic sequencing, it is very similar to the coronaviruses that are known to exist in bats,” but this connection remains unconfirmed.
In conclusion, Lucey argued that because “there is no antiviral drug treatment either then or today, neither for the SARS coronavirus, nor the new virus discovered in the Middle East last year,” it is important to be vigilant about preventing the spread of the disease. There are two main lessons that can be learned from the 2002-2003 SARS coronavirus epidemic that can be adapted to mitigate the 2012-2013 new coronavirus in the Middle East.
The first is that “hospital outbreaks are early warnings” that indicate the rise of a contagious virus, especially if medical workers infect family members outside of the medical facility. The second is the international spread of a virus due to air travel and contact of an infected person with others in different countries. Lucey argued that “as new virus epidemics occur, they have to start somewhere, and the sooner we can recognize them at the start, the more likely we can stop them, or at least mitigate their serious effects – serious in terms of public health, and serious in terms of economic impact.”
Article by Suzi Mirgani, Manager and Editor for CIRS Publications.
To read the full story and watch the lecture video, please visit this link: http://cirs.georgetown.edu/377251.html