Instapaper founder Marco Arment has seen how fast public health outbreaks can happen, and he’s never been more concerned than he is about the virus moving through the Utah school system.
To Arment, the spread of the new strain of a well-documented Middle East respiratory syndrome — called MERS-CoV — is “out of control.”
“I think it’s different from any other new virus I’ve ever seen in the past,” Arment, an Oregon resident, tells the New York Times. “That is, it is, probably, the largest scale of transmission.”
After a mysterious death in Salt Lake City, two dozen elementary schools in the area have been closed. Salt Lake City Public Schools are awaiting “final results” of a MERS-CoV investigation, which is expected to be released within a week.
MERS-CoV, which is closely related to a respiratory illness called SARS, was first reported in humans in 2012. It is similar to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which rapidly spread through Asia, killing nearly 800 people. In the U.S., two out of every three cases of MERS-CoV have been in Dubai.
Despite the new discovery of MERS-CoV and the attention the virus is receiving, Utah is not the first state to see MERS-CoV spread rapidly.
In Qatar, thousands of schoolchildren and health care workers are ill. Saudi Arabia, the largest producer of the region’s oil, saw large numbers of students diagnosed with MERS-CoV and struggling in the classroom. And in Dubai, public schools have shuttered and dozens of residents were hospitalized as the outbreak ballooned.
Also in Qatar, more than 2,000 young teenagers have been abandoned at home as the state’s children became ill with the virus. In Qatar, children are usually sent to schools by their parents.
Qatar’s new MERS-CoV outbreak is reminiscent of MERS-CoV’s origin in the United Arab Emirates in 2012. A Saudi man who was doing business in Qatar contracted the virus in a hotel room there, where it caused hundreds of people to suffer from breathing problems and fever.
Those who do become ill from MERS-CoV seem to be transmitting the virus by coughing, with the deadly virus assumed to have spread through small communities where members would be isolated at home after coming down with the illness.