Two cases of MERS, the deadly respiratory disease originating in Saudi Arabia, have been confirmed in Iran, according to the country’s health officials.
MERS, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or Corona Virus, is an often-fatal pneumonia, bringing on a severe cough and high fevers.
There are no vaccinations or direct treatment, and about a third of those infected die.
Both individuals contracted the disease when they were hospitalized near an infected patient who had returned from pilgrimage to Mecca, although it has not been confirmed if that patient tested positive for the virus.
To date, about 175 individuals in Saudi Arabia have died from MERS, which has already spread throughout the region and farther, with cases found in Malaysia, Greece, Lebanon and the United States. All other cases have been individuals who have either traveled to or come in contact with someone from Saudi Arabia.
The two patients are sisters and one is in critical condition, according to Mohammad Mehdi Gooya, the director-general of communicable diseases at the Iranian Health Ministry's Centre for Diseases Control and Prevention.
They are receiving treatment in Kerman, a northern Iranian province, where a total of four cases have been reported but only two confirmed.
“This is a very dangerous virus. It’s not easy to get it but once you get it, it’s extremely lethal,” said Dr. David Samadi of the Fox News Medical A Team.
“Global travel is exposing more people to the virus, but unfortunately there is still no good treatment, just fluid and rest,” said Samadi, Chair of Urology at Lenox Hill Hospital.
MERS was discovered about two years ago in Saudi Arabia, and is believed to originate from camels, although Samadi said he is skeptical about that.
The virus comes from the same family as SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which killed about 800 people globally after it was first detected in China in 2002.
The cases in Iran appeared just before the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims from around the world travel to Saudi Arabia.
All returning Iranian pilgrims will be tested for MERS, and those showing any symptoms will be quarantined for a minimum of two weeks, Gooya said.
Almost one million Iranians make the trip each year. This year it will take place in October.