Major Disaster in FEMA Region III: Fact or Elaborate Hoax?

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There is no vaccine for MERS and cannot be treated with antibiotics. Image by the CDC.

There is no vaccine for MERS, and it cannot be treated with antibiotics. Image by the CDC.

WHO Emergency Meeting and MERS: Time to Panic?

The World Health Organization (WHO) did have a meeting and yes, it was the second emergency meeting in history regarding a virus; the first meeting occurred in 2009 for the H1N1 bird flu.

According to the World Health Organization, the second meeting occurred July 17, 2013 as part of a new system called the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee, which is in place to assess global public health risks and provide guidance and support to countries at risk.

During this year’s meeting, experts reviewed the risks of the MERS virus and reported, “Director-General accepted the Committee’s assessment that the current MERS-CoV situation is serious and of great concern, but does not constitute a PHEIC at this time.”

PHEIC stands for Public Health Emergency of International Concern which by WHO definition is, “an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response.”

A PHEIC is serious, unusual, unexpected and may need immediate international attention.

The meeting concluded that this MERS does not meet the criteria for a PHEIC – and nowhere in the meeting notes does the WHO mention the requirement for a MERS vaccine  to be in place by October 1, 2013, as the Internet rumor machine reports. This is unlikely in any case, as there is currently no MERS vaccine, and vaccine development takes considerably longer than a few weeks.

Millions of Dollars for Antibiotics – For MERS?

The ‘FEMA Emergency’ story also reports that $11 million worth of antibiotics has been ordered and will be delivered to FEMA region III. Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections and would be no help for virus infections such as MERS.

So why would the CDC buy millions of dollars worth of antibiotics? When the CDC purchases large quantities of medicines and vaccines, they’re for the CDC’s Strategic National Stockpile (SNS). The Strategic National Stockpile is there in case of a large-scale public emergency that’s significant enough that the local health facilities run out of supplies. There’s at least once city in every state that’s involved in the CDC’S Cities Readiness Initiative (CRI) – a program designed to enhance preparedness in high-population areas.

The country is broken into regions for FEMA purposes. Image by FEMA

The country is broken into regions for FEMA purposes. Image by FEMA

 October 1, 2013 Emergency: Hoax Fingerprints

So is this story true, or just a hoax? The timeline shows that it may not be Senator Sheldon Songstad who compiled these ‘facts,’ and there are a number of problems with the facts themselves.

Although the WHO did meet, they did not order vaccines for MERS to be delivered by October 1, 2013 – not has a vaccine even been developed for the MERS virus!

Not only that, the antibiotic orders tied to the MERS meeting were most likely for CDC stockpiles – and wouldn’t be able to do anything for a MERS victim in any case, as viruses don’t respond to antibiotics.

Although this appears to be yet another hoax, it is almost impossible to know when a man-made, pandemic, terrorist attack or natural disaster such as the recent Colorado floods will occur weeks in advance. So remember that it is National Preparedness Month, and make sure you have a plan and an emergency kit.

Resources:

Welsh, J. For Only The Second Time In History, The World Health Organization Calls An Emergency Meeting About A Virus. Business Insider. (2013). Accessed September 18, 2013.

Cerda, L. FEMA Prepares for Major Event in Region III. (2013). Sleuth Journal. Accessed September 18, 2013.

World Health Organization. WHO Statement on the Second Meeting of the IHR Emergency Committee concerning MERS-CoV. (2013). Accessed September 18, 2013.

Cyberwarrior. FEMA REGION III & OCT 1st DEADLINE – Hawk 8/1/13. (2013). YouTube. Accessed September 18, 2013.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Strategic National Stockpile. (2012). Accessed September 18, 2013.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cities Readiness Initiative. (2013). Accessed September 18, 2013.

Department of Health and Human Services. Strategic National Stockpile. (2011). Accessed September 18, 2013.

FEMA. Region III. (2012). Accessed September 18, 2013.

Liebman, J., Mahoney, N. Do Expiring Budgets Lead to Wasteful Year-End Spending? Evidence from Federal Procurement. (2010). Accessed September 18, 2013.

South Dakota Legislator. Sheldon R. Songstad. Accessed September 18, 2013.

United States Senate. Fiscal year. Accessed September 18, 2013.

World Health Organization. PHEIC Procedures. Accessed September 18, 2013.

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