Update 10:45 a.m. Jan. 17: The number of people infected with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus has dropped in Europe.
In Germany, two out of three people who get pneumonia get the virus. That rate dropped to less than half over the last week as the virus is not spreading in Europe.
“The ability of the virus to transmit outside the human host is an important component of preventing the spread of the disease. Unfortunately, the virus continues to be highly transmissible. While we continue to follow the cases closely, we are disappointed that the virus continues to be distributed outside of the Middle East,” said a spokesperson from Germany’s Health Ministry, according to the Associated Press.
The number of cases of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus worldwide has reached 21, the World Health Organization said in a statement Friday.
Although that’s down from 53 in July, it’s still three times the most it got in 2011.
There have been 73 confirmed cases of MERS in Saudi Arabia alone, where it was first identified, according to WHO. Most of the infections have happened in the kingdom’s health care system, from patients in forced labor camps to patients in hospitals.
There’s a need for international cooperation to discover the source of the virus, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
“The real challenge for the future is to look for transmission mechanisms among different populations and communities, whether outside Saudi Arabia or other countries in the region, as well as to find a genetic marker from such a reservoir and to understand the disease transmission pathways,” said the federation’s secretary general, Elhadj As Sy, in the statement.
Infections like MERS or SARS can take as long as five months to develop, making tracing transmission a lengthy process. A higher concentration of infections could indicate new human-to-human transmission, though. The WHO has said that hospitals are extremely susceptible to the disease, since they have to ensure “control of people with unimmunized personal contacts.”
The virus is not a big health concern in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the United States, doctors have been monitoring cases in travelers returning from other countries for any connections with an infected person.
“Currently, there have been no additional cases reported among U.S. healthcare workers in the United States, and there is currently no evidence that someone with MERS has contracted the disease here,” the CDC wrote in an August update.
WHO, however, said in August that it was investigating the possibility of spread in the United States. The agency classified the risk of a U.S. MERS outbreak at low. The other two U.S. cases are people who traveled to the Middle East and have returned with respiratory symptoms, according to CDC.