On May 9, the World Health Organization stopped short of calling Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, a global health emergency. That’s a good thing.

In the 2 1/2 years since it was first identified, MERS has had a case fatality rate of about 30%, which sounds alarming. But during that period, there have been only 594 confirmed cases. Moreover, extensive surveillance in Saudi Arabia has shown that many people infected with the virus never showed symptoms, which means the fatality rate is actually far lower.

Still, case numbers have shot up in recent weeks. And the first two infections in the United States were recently reported, both of them in healthcare workers who flew in from Saudi Arabia.…  Seguir leyendo »

In the early hours of March 15, 2003, I was awakened by a telephone call at my home in Geneva from the infectious disease duty officer of the World Health Organization, who had just received a call from the health authorities in Singapore.

He said that a doctor in the city-state who had been treating patients with the unusual respiratory disease that we were monitoring had become ill with the same symptoms while flying back from a medical conference in New York. His plane was due to stop in Frankfurt.

Our first step was to alert the German health authorities and advise them to consider taking the doctor off the plane to reduce exposure to other passengers, and to put him under immediate medical supervision.…  Seguir leyendo »

I can’t remember how many friends had lost their jobs before me, perhaps it was 11 or 12. I do recall that I was handed my notice three days after our weekly work drinks, which we had to move from an indoor bar in Hong Kong’s Central district to an outside venue in Happy Valley as some of my friends feared we’d be exposed to SARS indoors.

The horrific events of 9/11 only a year and a half earlier had already caused the Dow to drop just over 14 percent, losing $1.2 trillion and leaving the Asian Tiger economies flattened. When SARS seized this city in March 2003 it was attacking not only a vulnerable population but also a fragile economy.…  Seguir leyendo »