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Taking Lessons from SARS, China Ready for MERS

Jun 05, 2015     Email"> PrintText Size

Yet again, China faces the spread of another contagious respiratory virus with a high-mortality rate. The SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic struck southern China in 2003, infecting more than 8,000 people and killing 774 in its wake. The virus faded into bacteriology history, but a new form of the ‘Coranavirus’ illness, known as MERS (Middle East Syndrome) has emerged with more than 1,100 cases reported, leading to 431 deaths globally.

South Korea has witnessed a sudden surge of MERS cases with 25 people diagnosed and 2 deaths. Local health officials were lapsed when enforcing quarantine procedures. A 44-year-old South Korean businessman, suspected of MERS, flew to Hong Kong last week and took a bus to Guangdong province on the same day. He soon succumbed to the sickness and is receiving treatment at the Intensive Care Unit of the Huizhou Municipal Central Hospital.

China’s rapid response to MERS 

Chinese health officials took prompt actions upon hearing the news a MERS case is in the country. The National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC) issued a MERS manual on Tuesday to health departments and hospitals nationwide, which outline its epidemiological history, symptoms, lab-testing procedures and results, preventative measures, treatment and care.

Government officials are acting in a more transparent manner to alert the public on the most recent updates of MERS cases reported in the country and to provide further details on how people can take preventative measures with basic hygiene tips. Additionally, everyone has been asked to remain calm.

Learning from the mistakes of SARS 

The SARS outbreak caught nearly everyone in Asia by surprise and for good reasons. At the time, no medicines were available to cure those infected. The respiratory illness was contagious, which brought pandemic fears that sparked public paranoia. The Chinese government did not to disclose all SARS cases in time in the country stirred an air of mystery and mistrust.

Yet, the crisis had taught important lessons to Beijing with new policies for hospitals and medical care facilities to respond better to future potential outbreaks of plagues. More government healthcare funding has been allocated to build up isolation wards in hospitals and local social agencies have launched public health campaigns to alleviate public concerns while instructing them on prevention care.

Placing MERS patients in good hands 

Despite putting public safety at risk, the South Korean man treated for MERS in Huizhou is receiving round-the-clock care with dedicated doctors and nurses standing beside his bedside. Dr. Zhong Nanshan, a specialist on respiratory diseases who captured global acclaim for his heroic efforts to treat SARS patients, has visited the Huizhou hospital and met the MERS patient.

According to CRI (China Radio International), Dr. Zhong praised the hospital for clearing out rooms nearby the ICU and maintaining vigilance. “As we have adopted such strict quarantine measures,” he said. “We have isolated spaces and pay attention to cross infections. So we should not worry about its spread.” He added that the medical community in China has made tremendous progress on precautionary and quarantine measure since the SARS outbreak.

MERS cure could be coming soon 

MERS patients can’t be treated with anti-viral medications as a cure. Caregivers can only alleviate their symptoms at best. However, a team of scientists at the Institute of Microbiology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences have been conducting research on MERS. After extensive and successful lab-testing, they may have potentially discovered curative antibodies and medicines to treat patients with the respiratory illness.

"We began the research after the first MERS case occurred in the Middle East and was transferred to human beings in 2012," Wu Ying, assistant researcher on the study told CRI. “In 2014, we have worked out the contagion mechanism of MERS to humans.

The work is the first time in the world and relevant studies were published in Nature magazine.”

Wu remains confident and has also agreed on self-testing of the antibodies.

Tackling MERS with SARS in mind 

So far so good for how China is handling MERS, but now is not the time to declare victory. Despite everyone’s best efforts, the respiratory illness could still potentially  mutate into a serious and deadly pandemic. Fortunately, Chinese health officials have learned vital lessons from SARS and hence such a ‘Coranavirus’ may not be doomed to repeat itself. (CCTV)

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(Editor: CHEN Na)

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