State epidemiologist Dr. Gil Chavez declared California a state of “public health emergency” late last month. After over 100 confirmed and probable cases of MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) over the last two years, he predicted with confidence that California’s case rate would surpass that of New York in three months’ time. Now that prediction seems prophetic, as Californians await further confirmation that five more cases of MERS have been confirmed in Marin County and Santa Rosa.
Almost a week after the first MERS case was confirmed in California, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an updated report (PDF) indicating that it was California’s 800th confirmed MERS case. With three more confirmed MERS cases in Los Angeles county and San Francisco in April, and one more in King County (in Seattle), California now has 1,092 cases of MERS, putting the state on pace to surpass that of New York by the end of May.
That’s according to Dr. Lopez-Jimenez, who tweeted on April 28, saying, “Massive report in 3 months – California approach to the #MERS crisis is fantastic – Best state for victims, first responders, second responders. Urgent inquiry for expansion of CA patient database.”
California has since seen no additional cases of MERS reported. But if Californians take caution in following the latest news, we’re in for a lot more sick people in the near future. With these numbers in mind, organizations like ReadyPublicHealth have urged Californians to take precautionary measures before trips to Saudi Arabia, which reportedly has the highest number of confirmed MERS cases, and Mecca, where the high congregation of pilgrims in early May led to fears that a disease would spill into U.S. cities. Earlier this week, the CDC’s Joel Capper stated, “The chance of having a locally acquired case of #MERS [MERS-CoV] is very small”
If a flock of chickens contracts MERS in Mecca, it’s extremely unlikely that humans from California will contract the virus in the subsequent weeks.
What’s more alarming is that millions of people from California and across the U.S. will journey to Jeddah for Muslim pilgrimages during July and August. Ali Sadr, of the California Task Force on MERS, warns that MERS travelers make “strong migratory patterns, in which they first visit Mecca, then go to Bahrain and then Abu Dhabi” before continuing on to other Muslim nations. While California’s MERS numbers have continued to grow, other states’ cases have also increased in recent weeks, and even Turkish Airlines announced it is waiving ticket fees for anyone traveling to Saudi Arabia in July.
While there has been no further confirmed MERS cases in California, and a doctor from San Francisco, who contracted the virus while working in Jeddah, has recovered, Dr. Chavez warned on Facebook, “Significant numbers of MERS cases continue to occur at the state level and are likely to continue so. This would make California a global epicenter for MERS for much longer than anyone would have predicted.”