The turmoil in the Middle East is not just creating human tragedy, where the indiscriminate use of force by terrorists and dictators is causing a huge displacement of families and destroying cities and neighborhoods.
To me, the scariest aspect of this region is that it could be brewing a catastrophic event of global proportions. I’m talking about infectious disease outbreaks, which can spread throughout the world.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned U.S. health officials Thursday of a deadly new virus originating in the Middle East. This virus is in the coronavirus family, and it seems to be creating severe respiratory distress, similar to that of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus, which first emerged in Asia in 2003.
Symptoms of the infection include severe acute respiratory illness with fever, cough and shortness of breath. Perhaps the most worrisome aspect of this virus is that of the 14 people so far infected, eight have died.
We have been reporting over the last several years how even in developed nations, we’re losing the battle against viruses and bacteria. Scientists have been warning us for years, and now we see that simple bacteria, which was easily treatable in the past are now almost impossible to treat.
More problematic, however, is the mutation of these viruses. Over the last several years, we have seen multiple viruses that have mutated from animals to people and have created an international scare because of their potentially deadly effects.
Right now, the Middle East is the perfect storm for such an outbreak. With crowded refugee camps, limited running water in many areas, the destruction of sanitary infrastructures, and limited access to physicians, this region’s hospitals and governments presently don’t have the tools to monitor infectious outbreaks and alert the rest of the world.
I recently spoke to Dr. Abdulla Al-Khan, an international health consultant and director of the Center for Abnormal Placentation at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, about how this coronavirus may impact the country of Bahrain.
“In Baharain there (have) not been any documented cases, but I have heard that there has been over the last couple of weeks two mortalities from influenza-like illness,” Al-Khan said. “Whether that was the SARS (virus) or whether it was the corona variant virus of it, I'm not too sure. But I think this is why it is important for the country and the people to understand: Let's focus on important things. Let's focus on issues that are more important to the children of Baharain, to the region, as opposed to these political issues. Because ultimately politics and medicine, in a way we don't want it to mix, but it ultimately does, because it all has a domino effect.”
And the domino effect doesn’t stop overseas. The days where health outbreaks abroad were an anecdote in a scientific journal are long gone. What could happen in one part of the world in the morning could be spreading to our shores in the evening.