MERS-CoV created quite a scare with its outbreak which began last year. Current news reports MERS is making a comeback.
The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Corona Virus was first identified in 2012. Once it affects a person, it may cause acute respiratory illness among other symptoms. It is said to be related to SARS and has caused deaths worldwide.
10 Facts about MERS-CoV
#1 It originated in the Middle East
The root of the MERS-CoV virus is from the Middle East and has already spread to 25 other countries. Cases were first being reported in Saudi Arabia, and only two US citizens were infected last year. The affected persons in the US caught the virus from abroad before travelling back to the US.
According to the World Health Organisation, MERS-CoV has spread to Iran, the US, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Lebanon, China, Oman, Egypt, Qatar, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, Algeria, UAE, UK, Yemen, Turkey, Austria, Netherlands, Italy, France, Greece, Germany and the current outbreak on the news is in the Republic of Korea (South Korea).
#2 South Korea is currently experiencing an outbreak
MERS-CoV has already caused a number of deaths in different countries. As of June 18th, the Republic of Korea reported 6,700 people quarantined and 23 deaths – the highest infection outside of Saudi Arabia. This outbreak was brought to the country by a person who travelled to Bahrain, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar before going back to South Korea on May 4th. The person became ill on May 11th and was diagnosed on May 20th. According to statistics, 38% of infected have died.
# 3 Chronic conditions heightens susceptibility to MERS
Those already with chronic conditions who get in contact with the virus may develop a severe case of MERS-CoV. Although it appears that MERS affects people of all ages and health conditions, those who have underlying or known illnesses may have less immunity to fight it.
Sever MERS symptoms may occur to those with chronic medical problems in the lungs, heart or kidney. Those who acquire the virus while in a good state of health may have a higher possibility of survival with the right treatments.
#4 MERS came from camels
For some time, the source of the virus was a mystery to the medical world. However, certain research pointed the possible cause to camels. In a collaborative research attempt by Colombia University, King Saudi University and EcoHealth Alliance, they isolated cases of MERS-CoV from two single humped camels. This virus matched the virus affecting humans.
MERS-CoV is considered a zoonotic virus and may be acquired through direct and indirect contact with infected dromedary camels. Although the source is not yet fully clear, it is possible that other animals may carry the said strain. So far, studies examined other animals such as goats, cows, water buffalo, swine, wild birds and sheep but found no MERS-CoV strains.
In the Middle East where camels are common, the population are advised to exercise precaution when visiting farms and barns. Avoiding contact with sick animals and hand washing before and after touching animals is always advised.
The government also advises against consumption of raw and undercooked products from animals. After proper cooking and/or pasteurisation, these products may be consumed.
#5 It has few noted symptoms
Although symptoms may vary across the population affected, common symptoms may be observed right away when one is affected by the virus. Symptoms may include the following:
- Shortness of breath
- Kidney failure
Some people who have been in contact with infected persons may test positive with MERS-CoV but may not show any early signs or symptoms. Lead health organisations are campaigning for the strengthening of prevention and control practices for infectious diseases.
#6 There is no cure yet
There is no cure for MERS-CoV. No specific treatment is available nor is there a vaccine that can kill the virus. Treatment is usually supportive and is based on each patient’s clinical condition.
Usually, patients who start getting early respiratory infections will be treated to combat it with addition medications to strengthen the immune system. Patients who are identified with MERS-CoV may not be allowed to travel or be around others. Isolation is usually the key to stop it from spreading.
#7 Hospitals are the main source of the outbreak in South Korea
The current outbreak in Korea is the largest outbreak outside of the Middle East. The government has quarantined thousands of suspected people affected. How did this all start?
The 68 year old man who first contracted MERS after travelling went undiagnosed for a week. He visited several health care facilities during this time which spread the virus. Several South Korean schools were previously shut down, with many now functioning again as the population adheres to strict healthcare and hygiene.
#8 It can spread from person to person
Although it does not pass easily from human to human, MERS-CoV can certainly be transmitted to another person. This is usually observed among those who come into close contact with the patient. Several healthcare workers have received the virus strain from their patients.
#9 It undergoes an 8 point journey
As it is currently understood, the virus follows a journey inside the body after first contact. Here’s the 8 point journey summarised by Business Insider Australia:
- First contact with the infected source
- Incubation of the virus in the body
- First symptoms appear
- Symptoms become worse
- Pneumonia sets in
- Respiratory problems worsen, intubation is needed
- Multiple organs start to dysfunction
In this 8 point virus journey, treatments can start to be administered right after the first symptoms appear. If a person’s immune system is strong, he/she may become lucky and stop the infection before it gets too bad.
#10 It can be prevented
MERS-CoV can be prevented. It’s a known fact. Right now, doctors and scientists all over the world supported by big health organisations are trying to crack open the virus in the hopes of finding a cure. Outbreak response and treatment strategies are also being studied while countries all over the world are being educated.
These simple precautionary measures may help strengthen your immunity as well as prevent the spread of the virus strain:
- Cover your mouth and nose when in public especially when meeting people who have a recent history of travelling from affected countries. Disposable masks can help a lot and you should have fresh ones on you at all times.
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water. Make sanitising a habit.
- Avoid people who are sick or exercise precautionary measures when you can’t avoid being around them.
- When abroad, avoid restaurants you can’t trust. Avoid eating meats too or make sure you order them well done.
- Eat healthy food and stay fit to strengthen your immune system.
For those who are afraid they might be exhibiting the first symptoms of MERS-CoV:
- Seek treatment right away especially if you have been travelling within 14 days of acquiring the symptoms.
- Cover your mouth when sneezing.
- Wear surgical masks.
- Avoid public gatherings.
- Inform your family and ask them to do all the necessary precautions and have them tested right away.
- Avoid further travel.
The MERS-CoV outbreak should be a wakeup call for countries around the world. Everybody should be prepared for unanticipated virus outbreaks. Right now, the South Korean outbreak is said to have dwindled down a bit, with numbers of those affected dropping. Despite this, precautions are still necessary.