British Columbia

B.C. health officials on lookout for deadly new virus

Health officials in B.C. are keeping an eye out for a new virus known as MERS.

MERS virus is a respiratory illness restricted mostly to the Middle East

A coronavirus is shown in this colorized transmission electron micrograph. (Beth Fischer/U.S. National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases/Canadian Press)

Health officials in B.C. are keeping an eye out for a new virus known as MERS.

The severe respiratory illness is restricted mostly to the Middle East. It’s a new version of the coronavirus, which is responsible for everything from the common cold to the deadly SARS virus, but health experts don’t know much about it.

Provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall says officials are taking the same approach they took when the SARS virus was a concern.

"The same kind of alert system that we have now was in place back in December of 2003 and the first case that presented at a Vancouver hospital was in fact recognized by the physician in charge and was isolated within a matter of minutes," he said.

Kendall says the virus can be fatal.

"The fatality rate is actually pretty high, I think 40 to 50 per cent," he said. "So if you get this virus and you get very ill with it, then you are headed for a potentially bad outcome."

The virus poses the greatest threat to the elderly and those with a compromised immune system.

There have been no reports of the MERS virus in North America though cases have been reported in France, England, Germany and Kuwait. 

Officials are watching for any emergence of severe respiratory illness in anyone who has been travelling or come into close personal contact with some who has been travelling in the Middle East.