TORONTO, July 19, 2013The life-threatening MERS coronavirus that has emerged in the Middle East could spread faster and wider during two international mass gatherings involving millions of people in the next few months, according to researchers who describe the most likely pathways of international spread based upon worldwide patterns of air travel.
Researchers led by Dr. Kamran Khan of St. Michael's Hospital encouraged health care providers to learn from the experience of SARS by anticipating rather than reacting to the introduction of MERS in travelers returning from the Middle East. SARS, which was also caused by a previously unknown coronavirus, killed 800 people worldwide a decade ago, including 44 in Toronto, and cost the Canadian economy an estimated $2 billion.
The MERS coronavirus, which appears to have emerged in the Middle East in early 2012, has spread to several countries in Western Europe and North Africa where there have been localized clusters of cases. Worldwide about 80 cases have been confirmed, with a mortality rate of more than 50 per cent.
Dr. Khan said there is potential for the virus to spread faster and wider during two annual events that draw millions of domestic and foreign Muslims to Saudi Arabia. The first is umrah, a pilgrimage that can be performed at any time of year but is considered particularly auspicious during the month of Ramadan, which this year began on July 9 and ends on Aug. 7. The second is the hajj, a five-day pilgrimage required of all physically and financially able Muslims at least once in their life. It takes place Oct. 13-18 this year and is expected to draw more than 3 million people.
Dr. Khan's team analyzed 2012 worldwide airline traffic and historic hajj data to predict population movements in and out of Saudi Arabia and the broader Middle East during these two mass gatherings to help countries assess their potential for MERS introduction via returning travelers and pilgrims
|Contact: Leslie Shepherd|
St. Michael's Hospital