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MERS FAQ—to Explain the New Coronavirus

Currently, the deadly respiratory virus known as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, first confirmed in 2012 in the Middle East, has resurfaced in Asia. Until Jun 30, the number of fatalities reported has risen to 33 in South Korea, along with 183 infected.

What exactly is this new virus and should we be concerned?

Here are some commonly asked questions about MERS:

What is MERS? 

It is an illness caused by a virus named coronavirus. Coronaviruses are made up of a large family of viruses which contains the common cold and severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars).

It affects the human’s respiratory system (lungs and breathing tubes), and is spread via people’s close contact. The first Mers fatality was identified in June 2012, Saudi Arabia. The World Health Organization’s statistics show that at least 449 people have died from the virus.

Until May 2015, Mers cases are reported in 25 countries in the Middle East, Europe and Asia, majorly in Saudi Arabia. Then MERS patients are also found in China and South Korea.

What are the symptoms of MERS?

Most MERS patients developed severe acute respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath. Other symproms includes pneumonia and, sometimes, kidney failure, headache, etc.

How is it spread?

The precise ways the virus spreads are not known for certain. It is possible that the virus is spread in droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

There have been cases where the virus has spread between two people but close contact seems to be needed. This also suggests that the virus does have a limited ability to pass from person to person. According to the WHO, most human cases have been the result of human-to-human transmission in a health-care setting.

How common is the illness? 

More than 1,200 cases have been confirmed worldwide to date, according to the CDC, with nearly 450 deaths, for a death rate of 37%. As of June 2015, the WHO said about 36% of reported patients with Mers had died.

Where did it come from?

Experts still do not yet sure where the virus originated. It may be the result of a new mutation of an existing virus. The WHO says that camels are likely to be a source of Mers infection, but it is also disputable, because the exact route of transmission is not known yet.

How is it treated? How to prevent it?

There is no specific cure recommended for MERS infection, but doctors can treat patients with MERS to relieve symptoms. For severe cases, current treatment includes care to support vital organ functions.

Until now, there is no vaccine to prevent MERS infection. However, you can also take some general measures to prevent it—avoid personal contact, such as kissing or sharing cups with anyone who shows symptoms of illness (coughing and sneezing); maintain good hand hygiene and wash your hands frequently, etc. Remember to  keep good lifestyle habits and build up your body resistance.

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