Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) became evident to the World Health Organisation in 2012, when the first cases were reported in Saudi Arabia. Since then, MERS has continued to spread through the Middle East, with the highest concentration of reported cases being on the Arabian Peninsula, with some cases having been transmitted through travel to some European countries, the Philippines and Malaysia and recently, a few MERS cases were identified in May 2014 in the US.
How is MERS Spread?
By far, the majority of MERS infected victims have acquired the virus through human contact, for example, people living with or caring for someone with a confirmed case of MERS. The WHO and the CDC continue to monitor the spread of the virus, however, it is known that what causes it is a Coronavirus now called MERS-Co-V, and that it is contagious, but only to a limited extent. It does not pass easily from person to person, unless there is close, unprotected contact.
Anyone caring for, or living with a MERS patient should take normal precautions to avoid the spread of the virus. These include:
-Wearing protective clothing, including facial and eye protection;
-Frequent and thorough hand washing;
-Disposal of any and all materials that have come in close contact with an infected patient.
What are the Symptoms of MERS?
Typically, an infected person will present with fever, cough, and shortness of breath. In certain cases, patients have also been diagnosed with Pneumonia. Since the early symptoms of MERS are non-specific, it is hard to diagnose, and it is possible for a person to be infected without knowing. Other symptoms that have been reported in many but not all cases are: Gastrointestinal and Diarrhoea. In severe cases, respiratory failure can occur, with the patient requiring mechanical ventilation and support in an ICU.
There have also been reports of organ failure, (especially of the kidneys), or septic shock. Current knowledge on the mortality rate of MERS-CoV indicates that 27-30% of patients have died.
Where does the MERS virus come from, and how does it start?
The origins of this virus are not yet fully understood, however, it is believed that the virus can be contracted through contact with certain infected animals, especially, but not exclusively, camels, (in Egypt), as well as close contact with an infected person. There has proven to be a close link between the strain of Co-V found in camels and that found in humans. Health-care facilities have reported clusters of MERS cases, and, in particular, facilities where infection prevention and control have been inadequate.
Who is most at risk?
People with diabetes, renal failure, or those that are immuno-compromised should use caution, and avoid contact with camels, or with any camel product. Also, it goes without saying that these same people should also avoid contact with an infected person, and avoid visiting any health-care facility where MERS patients are being treated.
What sort of vaccine or treatment is used against Co-V?
At this time, no known vaccine or specific treatment is currently available. Patients are treated according to their symptoms and condition. Until more data is available regarding the MERS Virus, travel to the Middle East, and in particular, the Arabian peninsula, poses a specific danger. If travel is necessary, all precautions must be taken to avoid contracting and subsequently spreading this dangerous virus.