Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Azerbaijan Reports Possible MERS Outbreak Among Returning Hajj Pilgrims

November 6, 2013

Azerbaijan reports possible MERS outbreak
(from Google Maps)
Local media in the country of Azerbaijan is reporting the hospitalization of 'at least five' suspected cases of the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in that country.

The unconfirmed report states the suspected victims are hospitalized with 'acute respiratory diseases'. All are recently returned pilgrims from the Hajj in Saudi Arabia, the source of most of the previous MERS infections. 

The outbreak has not been verified as MERS yet, but if it proves to be true, this will be the first cluster linked to the Hajj, an annual journey performed by millions of Muslims. It could mark the tenth country where MERS has been found if verified by the World Health Organization.

A country of 95% Muslim, about 4,000 of the faithful made the trip this year. Azerbaijan is the largest country in the Caucasus, considered a crossroads between Asia and Europe. It lies between Russia to the north and Iran to the south.

So far, most of the cases of MERS have been linked to the country of Saudi Arabia, accounting for 126 of 150 laboratory confirmed infections and 54 of 64 deaths.

Health officials have been worried that Hajj pilgrims could carry the virus back to their home countries, allowing the deadly illness to break out of the Arabian Peninsula and become a global pandemic.

The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome is a corona virus which can cause severe respiratory disease, diarrhea and kidney failure. It appears to have a shockingly high mortality rate of nearly 50%. Most victims have had underlying medical conditions which may contribute to the high death rate.

Genetic testing recently confirmed that MERS evolved in bats and has repeatedly infected humans from an unknown intermediary source. The SARS virus, a cousin to MERS was recently proven to also have originated in bats. 

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