His and MERS

Okay, the H7N9 virus didn’t turn out so bad (except for the millions of fowl destroyed, and the roughly one-third of those infected who died), but even Mother Nature needs practice:

Virologists are casting a worried eye on this year’s Islamic hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia as they struggle with the enigmatic, deadly virus known as MERS which is striking hardest in the kingdom.

Little is known about the new pathogen, beyond the fact that it can be lethal by causing respiratory problems, pneumonia and kidney failure. It can be transmitted between humans, but unlike its cousin, the SARS virus, which sparked a scare a decade ago, it does not seem very contagious.

Even so, for any respiratory virus the mass gathering of the hajj provides a perfect opportunity to first spread at the two holiest Muslim shrines in the cities of Mecca and Medina, and then travel around the globe at jet speed as pilgrims return home.

The 2012 hajj drew 3.1 million people — and this year’s event likewise occurs in October, as the northern hemisphere slides into the season for coughs and sneezes.

The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia. The count has ticked up steadily, with a flurry this May and June taking it to 77, the bulk of them in the kingdom.

Forty MERS patients have died to date, an extremely high rate of 52 percent, compared to nine percent of the 8,273 recorded patients with SARS, which was centred on Asia.

Funny (ha-ha), H7N9 went underground as the weather warmed up, just as MERS took wing. It just reproves the wisdom of Gilda Radner as Roseanne Roseannadanna: “It’s always something–if it ain’t one thing, it’s another.”

So true, Roseanne (couch-cough), so true.

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