When is the next Pandemic- Could it be MERS?


People ask me as a physician if a new, incurable virus or bacteria could spread across the world, causing a massive pandemic. Unfortunately, I tell them the answer to this question is “When, not if.”

The truth is that bacterial and viral pathogens have been around for millions, if not billions of years. While modern antibiotics, on the other hand, have only been around for around for less than a measly hundred years. Plus, with worldwide travel, people not taking their full prescription of antibiotics, and the rapid mutation rate of diseases, it is just a matter of time before one of these bugs causes real problems.

In my book The New Reality, I write of such a scenario. Unfortunately, this situation may be more plausible than fictional in nature. With the recent disassembly of the American healthcare system, rising national debt, and deteriorating research grant funds, we may be financially unable to handle a massive pandemic—making this scenario more likely by the day.

I’m not a fear monger, but a recent article caught my attention about a deadly virus that was brought back from Saudi Arabia. It is called the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and carries a 25-30% mortality. The virus comes from the same family as the severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, coronavirus, which killed almost 800 people worldwide in 2003. The incubation period of the virus — the time between exposure and development of symptoms — is about five days, similar to SARS.

The patient who contracted MERS was returning home to Indiana. Upon arrival, he began to have shortness of breath, coughing and fever. Officials do not know the origin of the virus or how it spreads. The MERS virus has been found in camels, but officials don’t know how it is spreading to humans. There is no vaccine or treatment available. In some countries, the virus has spread from person to person through close contact, such as caring for or living with an infected person. However, it is unknown how the patient became infected.

“MERS is now in our heartland,” said Anne Schuchat, assistant surgeon general and director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases, during a briefing Friday.

The scary thing is what happens if this MERS virus mutates into something more deadly. By nature, virus routinely mutate—making treatment of such illnesses as the common cold and HIV very difficult to treat. So what happens if it mutates into something more deadly or possibly something more easily spread?

It is certainly a reasonable question to ask. And the only true answer is to be prepared. But as our ability to prepare is under serious jeopardy as a direct result of Obama’s new domestic policies and the Affordable Care Act, we may all be caught someday off-guard for such an event.

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