When Lebanon was hit with an outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), doctors warned it was just the beginning.
They couldn’t have been more wrong.
The concern was one of global contagion: that something that began as a mysterious virus that appeared in Saudi Arabia could spread across the Gulf and beyond.
The concern was also one of domestic regulation: are we keeping this deadly virus out of our laps?
Initially, however, the answer was unequivocally: yes. The Lebanese government worked diligently to figure out exactly how the virus was transmitted and to isolate health care workers involved.
The strain known as MERS-CoV isn’t easily spread among people, as was shown in Lebanon. Rather, it is carried through contact with the feces of people who are sick, and what is known about this transmission mechanism can even help treat HIV and other blood borne viruses.
This is something of a remarkable accomplishment in itself. Many international health experts believe virus spreads easily among humans when other infectious agents like SARS or Ebola enter our lungs. So part of the lesson learned in Lebanon from the deaths of 34 people and the subsequent introduction of thousands of patients into the health care system is that well thought out precautions made in the beginning can keep the spread of a deadly virus at bay.
The strategic response could also be seen in the decision to have a physical barrier, a high stress environment, hospital itself, and surrounding areas, provide immune protection for health care workers. For Lebanon, this was essential in getting the message out that it wasn’t to jump into the fray blindly and treat anyone with an air travel ticket in one of its airports.
If Lebanon was successful in telling the world it was safe to visit the country, is that not also telling the world the country is stable and upstanding?