New SARS-like Virus Declared Global Threat by World Health Organization

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A few days ago, the lead story headline on CNN.com proclaimed “New Virus Called a Global Threat.” The story highlighted remarks made by Margaret Chan, Director-General of the United Nations’ World Health Organization, at the its 66th World Congress meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. The comments were made regarding a new SARS-like virus called the Middle East Respiratory Symptom Coronavirus, or the abbreviated MERS-Cov.

Chan said the world needs to pull together its resources to properly tackle the virus which she considers her “greatest concern” at present.

“We understand too little about this virus when viewed against the magnitude of its potential threat,” she said, “and more information is needed quickly and urgently.”

According to the World Health Organization’s most recent update, the virus has infected 49 people worldwide (most of them in the Middle East). 27 of them have died. According to the CNN.com article, no cases have been identified within the U.S.; however cases have been identified in eight countries including France, Saudi Arabia, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

A few years ago, the business continuity world wrestled with the potential impact of a global outbreak of the H1N1 virus. However, as the pandemic failed to materialize, discussions and preparations tapered off. Perhaps it is time to reignite these dialogs.

Health threats, in particular, can invoke emotional–even irrational–responses in people as they seek to protect themselves and loved ones from invisible harm. Critical to the effective management of threats like this is strong, persistent communication, coupled with thoughtful planning and preparation.

While the future impact of this particular virus is uncertain, of greater certainty is the fact threats of various types will always be with us. We can be assured efforts spent in educating other business leaders, developing response plans, and implementing rapid communications strategies to meet these threats will not be wasted.