To comprehend what could be the greatest threat to mankind’s greatest threat, the movie Contagion is a good place to start. In the film, a new virus wipes out tens of millions of humans in days, and social institutions crumble. The Spanish Flu of 1918 was similar, killing at least 50 million people and affecting ten times as many in only two years.
The human race lives in perpetual fear of such pandemics. Recently, a new scare was added to the list. During a speech at the World Health Assembly, Dr Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization, said, “My greatest concern right now is the novel coronavirus. We understand too little about this virus when viewed against the magnitude of its potential threat. Any new disease that is emerging faster than our understanding is never under control.”
The novel coronavirus has been named the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) because it mainly affects Middle Eastern residents. Since the first case was confirmed in September 2012, there have been 50 cases and 30 deaths. Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have confirmed cases. Cases have also been reported by France, Germany, the UK and Tunisia.
The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention says infected people ‘developed severe acute respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath. About half of them died. Some were reported as having a mild respiratory illness.’
As of now the virus only transmits via close contact. The worst case scenario is a mutation which would make it considerably more virulent. There is no treatment or cure, and prevention strategies are basic—wash hands often, don’t contact infected people, and avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.