There’s no single cure for coronavirus infection. Now, family members of the first Saudi man to die in the kingdom from the disease are calling the infection part of a “death by SMS.”
Omed Mekdan, a Shiite cleric who had visited Mecca for the annual Muslim pilgrimage three times and hosted wealthy Saudi and foreign pilgrims, passed away last weekend. His son, Mohammed Mekdan, 27, told The Wall Street Journal that his family wouldn’t spend a penny to learn more about the virus that led to his father’s death. The cause of death is unclear.
Instead, Mohammed Mekdan told the Journal, they’re keeping vigil by the bedside of the father of four who just couldn’t catch a break. He and his wife, Houda, carried out rituals that the patriarch had instructed them to perform as soon as they learned of his condition.
Infection with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus, or MERS-CoV, emerged last year. An estimated 500 to 1,200 people have been infected in Saudi Arabia alone. Since February, the disease has spread to 17 other countries, primarily in the Middle East. People who have been infected are experiencing diarrhea, fever, pneumonia and eye and respiratory trouble. A few months ago, 13 people in Saudi Arabia were infected with the virus.
There’s no cure for the disease, but family members like Houda and Mohammed Mekdan have begun to see cause for hope. Earlier this month, the World Health Organization upgraded the level of infection from the acute phase into a more severe chronic phase. This likely indicates that the virus is spreading and faster.
The Saudi government has released a set of guidelines that followed Dr. Mark Moylan’s advice, the Australian official who warned members of Congress last month about the death rate. The new guidelines range from trying to reduce people’s chances of getting MERS to improving the hospital’s protocols for cleaning to limiting its spread.
Dr. John Cox, an infectious diseases expert and professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine, told the Journal that fighting the disease at its source is more effective than fighting it after patients are already infected. He said the cure depends on “global efforts to reduce the risk of spread to uninfected people.”
The WHO has urged governments to work together to solve the problem. The emergency committee warned countries to provide pregnant women with adequate guidance during the first trimester of their pregnancies. Likewise, they have reminded doctors to determine whether pregnant women who are suspected of having MERS are fully recovered or seriously ill.
But the best way to fight the disease is to stop the numbers of people caught in the first place.
Read more of J.D. Kelleher’s work on the bureau blog.