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Virulent viruses sweep Asia

Asian outbreaks of Avian influenza (H7N9) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) have left hundred ill and the death toll rising.

The first H7N9 case was reported in March 2013 in China. By November 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported a total of 139 laboratory-confirmed human cases with 45 deaths primarily in southeastern China.

By April 2013, for the first time, H7N9 jumped beyond Mainland China after Taiwan confirmed its first case, the BBC reported. Hong Kong’s first case came to light in December 2013.

Spreading rapidly, by the start of 2014, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) reported 251 laboratory-confirmed cases, including 56 deaths from twelve provinces in China and two municipalities (Beijing and Shanghai) in January. Taiwan reported two cases of bird flu imported from Jiangsu, and Hong Kong reported three cases imported from Guangdong.

Hong Kong reported its first death from H7N9 on 26 December 2013. A WHO assessment in February 2014 found a total of 375 laboratory-confirmed cases and 115 deaths, including that of a Chinese traveller in Malaysia.

According to Focus Taiwan, by 19 May, 2014, Taiwan's Centers for Disease Control had put the total tally at 445 cases of human infection, including 156 deaths around the world. The majority of those struck by the H7N9 influenza have been exposed to domestic poultry and there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission.

On the other side of the continent, MERS-CoV has hit several countries in the Arabian Peninsula since it was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. That year, there were nine total cases, five deaths (World Health Organization). There were five cases and three deaths in Saudi Arabia; two cases and no deaths in Qatar; and two cases and two deaths in Jordan.

By mid 2014, the virus had spread significantly and even moved out of the Middle East. As of 6 May, 2014, a total 424 cases of MERS had been reported globally, including 495 cases and 131 deaths, according to the ECDC.

The numbers, at a glance: Saudi Arabia: 342 cases, 105 deaths; United Arab Emirates: 49 cases, 9 deaths; Qatar: 7 cases, 4 deaths; Jordan: 5 cases, 3 deaths; Oman: 2 cases, 2 deaths; Kuwait: 3 cases, 1 death; Egypt: 1 case, 0 deaths.

There have also been reported cases in France, Germany, Greece, Italy, and the United Kingdom; Tunisia and Egypt; Malaysia and the Philippines; and the United States of America.

Reuters found that MERS has killed nearly a third of sufferers. It's believed that the virus is spread from camels to humans and can pass from human to human but in a limited way. - Lorraine Chow