MERS and H7N9 Emerging Infectious Disease Update

There have been several new developments in the past week with respect to the MERS virus, including several additional infections.  Reported cases of A(H7N9) infections continue to diminish. 



The ‘Middle East Respiratory Syndrome’ is garnering significant attention from the medical community around the world.  This is a new strain of coronavirus that has not been seen in humans before; in people, this type of virus can cause multiple types of illnesses –some leading to death.  Currently, most of the new MERS infections can trace their origins back to Saudi Arabia; however, experts are still unsure about how the virus is spreading – investigations are well underway.

The MERS virus can transmit from human-to-human, but the mechanism by which the virus is transmitted is unknown.

As of May 30, 2013, the MERS virus has been laboratory-confirmed in 50 patients; 27 people have died from the virus. 


New laboratory-confirmed infections of A(H7N9) are still infrequent.  Since our last update, there have been 2 additional infections and 1 death, bringing the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases to 133 and 37 deaths.

The reason for the diminution in A(H7N9) cases is unknown but may reflect the success of control measures in affected areas.  However, given the uncertainty of possible resurgence, health experts are advising ongoing vigilance.

Key Alerts

  • May 29 – The WHO releases an updated statement on the MERS virus – available here
  • May 23 – The WHO releases an updated statement on the A(H7N9) virus – available here
  • May 23 – The WHO releases an FAQ page about the MERS virus – available here.

Summary, Risks, and Recommendations

New cases of A(H7N9) are infrequent; however, there is general consensus from the international medical community that the MERS virus poses a significant threat to human health on a global scale should it begin to mutate.

MERS does have the ability to spread to human-to-human and the WHO has reported several clusters in which human-to-human transmission have been confirmed.  However, researchers are not currently aware of how the virus mutates or how people are becoming infected; until they can determine how it is spread, it’s unlikely they will be able to prevent MERS from spreading.

Canadian health authorities are cautioning travelers to protect themselves against the spread of germs while abroad and asking physicians to remain alert for patients presenting symptoms of severe respiratory illness.


  • Total A(H7N9) confirmed cases: 133
  • Total A(H7N9) fatalities: 37
  • Total MERS confirmed cases: 50
  • Total MERS fatalities: 27

Additional Information

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