Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 20th 2013 Contents A37
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VATICAN CITY---Pope John Paul II
has moved a step closer to sainthood.
A Vatican official says a commis-
sion of theologians approved a mira-
cle attributed to his intercession,
clearing a key hurdle. The case now
goes to a commission of cardinals
and then Pope Francis. John Paul s
canonisation is possible in autumn to
coincide with the 35th anniversary of
his election, though the official said
yesterday on condition of anonymity
because he wasn t authorised to re-
veal details about the case that it may
be too soon.
The Polish-born pope has been on
the fast track for sainthood ever since
retired Pope Benedict XVI waived the
traditional five-year waiting period
and allowed the investigation into his
life and virtues to begin just weeks
after his 2005 death. John Paul was
beatified in 2011. (AP)
John Paul II moves a step closer to sainthood
LONDON---A mysterious new res-
piratory virus that originated in the
Middle East spreads easily between
people and appears more deadly
than SARS, doctors reported yes-
terday after investigating the
biggest outbreak in Saudi Arabia.
More than 60 cases of what is
now called MERS, including 38
deaths, have been recorded by the
World Health Organization in the
past year, mostly in Saudi Arabia.
So far, illnesses haven t spread as
quickly as SARS did in 2003, ulti-
mately triggering a global outbreak
that killed about 800 people.
An international team of doctors
who investigated nearly two dozen
cases in eastern Saudi Arabia found
the new coronavirus has some strik-
ing similarities to SARS. Unlike
SARS, though, scientists remain baf-
fled as to the source of MERS.
In a worrying finding, the team
said MERS (Middle East respiratory
syndrome) not only spreads easily
between people, but within hospitals.
That was also the case with SARS,
a distant relative of the new virus.
"To me, this felt a lot like SARS
did," said Dr Trish Perl, a senior hos-
pital epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins
Medicine, who was part of the team.
Their report was published online
yesterday in the New England Jour-
nal of Medicine.
Perl said they couldn t nail down
how it was spread in every case---
through droplets from sneezing or
coughing, or a more indirect route.
Some of the hospital patients weren t
close to the infected person, but
somehow picked up the virus.
"In the right circumstances, the
spread could be explosive," said Perl,
while emphasising that the team
only had a snapshot of one MERS
cluster in Saudi Arabia.
Cases have continued to trickle
in, and there appears to be an ongo-
ing outbreak in Saudi Arabia. MERS
cases have also been reported in Jor-
dan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates,
Britain, France, Germany, Italy and
Tunisia. Most have had a direct con-
nection to the Middle East region.
In the Saudi cluster that was
investigated, certain patients infected
many more people than would be
expected, Perl said.
One patient who was receiving
dialysis treatment spread MERS to
seven others, including fellow dialysis
patients at the same hospital. During
SARS, such patients were known as
"superspreaders" and effectively
seeded outbreaks in numerous coun-
Perl and colleagues also concluded
that symptoms of both diseases are
similar, with an initial fever and
cough that may last for a few days
before pneumonia develops.
But MERS appears far more lethal.
Compared to SARS eight per cent
death rate, the fatality rate for MERS
in the Saudi outbreak was about 65
per cent, though the experts could
be missing mild cases that might
skew the figures.
While SARS was traced to bats
before jumping to humans via civet
cats, the source of the MERS virus
remains a mystery. It is most closely
related to a bat virus though some
experts suspect people may be get-
ting sick from animals like camels
or goats. Another hypothesis is that
infected bats may be contaminating
foods like dates, commonly harvested
and eaten in Saudi Arabia.
Doctors around the world have
struggled to treat patients. "We need
more information from other coun-
tries to find out what the best treat-
ment is," said Dr Clemens Wendtner,
who treated a MERS patient who
later died in Munich. "Our patient
got everything possible and it still
didn t help him."
Other experts said there are
enough worrying signs about MERS
that it can t yet be written off,
despite the relatively small number
of cases it has caused.
"As long as it is around, it has
every opportunity at the genetic
roulette table to turn into something
more dangerous," said Michael
Osterholm, an infectious diseases
expert at the University of Minneso-
ta.WHO Director-General Dr Mar-
garet Chan has previously called
MERS the single biggest public
health threat and acknowledged offi-
cials were "empty-handed" regard-
ing prevention measures.
At a meeting this weekend in
Cairo, WHO will meet with other
experts to discuss MERS and to pos-
sibly develop guidelines for next
month s Ramadan, when millions
of Muslim pilgrims will be visiting
Saudi Arabia. (AP)
Deadly new virus emerges...
MERS virus more lethal than SARS
LOURDES---Heavy floods in southwest
France have forced the closure of the
Catholic pilgrimage site in Lourdes and the
evacuation of pilgrims from nearby hotels.
Muddy floodwaters swirled yesterday in
the grotto where nearly six million believers
from around the world, many gravely ill,
come every year seeking miracles and healing.
It has been a major pilgrimage site since a
French girl s vision of the Virgin Mary there
Lourdes Mayor Jean-Pierre Artiganave said
on BFM television that the pilgrimage complex
in the foothills of the Pyrenees will not reopen
until safety can be assured. Diocese
spokesman Mathias Terrier said that wasn t
likely before the end of the week.
Rescue services evacuated hundreds of
people from nearby hotels. Authorities were
particularly concerned with bringing weak
and sick pilgrims to safety.
Heavy rains around the region inundated
town centres and swelled the Gave de Pau
river, forcing road closures.
"We need more reinforcements in the area
to face these floods, which are really excep-
tional," Interior Minister Manuel Valls said
while visiting Lourdes yesterday. He said days
of sustained rains and sudden snowmelt made
the flooding worse, and left some villages
The Web site for the pilgrimage complex,
which includes several buildings and a sanc-
tuary nestled beneath a rocky hillside, carried
a dramatic rundown of the rising waters.
Throughout Tuesday, masses were gradually
cancelled. One by one, entrances to the sanc-
tuary were cordoned off. The live video feed
of the grotto went down. Then the electricity
was cut off, and then phones.
"A vision of the apocalypse in the Sainte
Bernadette Church, where the big movable
partition is threatening to fall. The water has
risen above the stairs of the choir," read one
Terrier said waters reached 1.5 metres in
the grotto. A group of 3,000 children sched-
uled to come for the day yesterday were told
to stay away. Volunteers offered to help clean
up the site when the waters recede. (AP)
The sanctuary of Lourdes flooded,
in Lourdes, southwestern France,.
French rescue services and police
are evacuating hundreds of
pilgrims from hotels threatened by
floodwaters from a rain-swollen
river in the Roman Catholic shrine
town of Lourdes. AP PHOTO
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