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May 30, 2013

Daniel Lucey On Global Viral Outbreaks

Georgetown_SFSQ.jpgOn 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: