Since MERS landed in the United States, there have been a lot of questions about what the disease exactly is and whether or not it’s dangerous. In short, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome is an infectious disease that exhibits high case fatality rates; seems to prefer individuals with pre-existing conditions; and most likely finds its origins in camels. But today, I want to talk about how likely it is that we’ll be facing an outbreak here in the US anytime soon.
The answer? Most likely no.
This is not the first time MERS has hitched a ride on a plane and found itself far from home. We’ve seen imported cases pop up in the UK, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, and several others. If you’re curious about the exact numbers, click through the map below to an interactive visualization of MERS around the world:
82% of cases that have occurred since MERS was first documented have been local to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The United Arab Emirates follows next at about 11%. The remaining 7% are distributed among 14 other countries, and more than half of that 7% is concentrated in Qatar, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Egypt, and Yemen. When it comes down to it, only 3% of all documented MERS cases have been reported outside of the Middle East. The singular case we’ve had so far in the USA falls into that category.
Even more so, of that 3% – 14 cases total – only a fraction have demonstrated secondary transmission that resulted in locally-acquired infections. Yes, imported cases in the UK, France, and Tunisia did manage to spread the virus – but they didn’t get very far. Only 4 of the 14 total cases outside of the Middle East have been due to secondary transmission; the remaining 10 have all been due to exportation events from Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, and Jordan.
In sum, just because a case of MERS is now in America doesn’t mean we’re going to have a massive outbreak. In the rare event that there is secondary transmission, history suggests that it’ll likely die out after 1 or 2 infections, which will be limited only to those who have close contact with the patient.
For Americans, MERS may be scary – but only from a distance. Take solace in the statistics! For the time being, all indicators suggest that there’s no need to panic.