The Middle East respiratory syndrome, also known as “MERS,” a type of viral respiratory illness caused by the MERS-CoV coronavirus (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
The disease so named because all of the known cases (up to the time of the writing of this article on April 29, 2014) came from countries in the Arabian Peninsula, with the first cases have come out of Saudi Arabia in early 2012. Although some of the infected persons died elsewhere, all of these individuals appear to have contracted the illness somewhere in or near the Middle East.
Symptoms typically include severe acute respiratory illness, similar to symptoms of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). An infected person can expect to experience coughing, fever, and shortness of breath. Other symptoms might include gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea, as well as pneumonia and kidney failure. So far, nearly half of those infected have died from MERS. Although it is possible that there may be many other cases that have gone unreported due to milder symptoms that did not warrant seeing a doctor.
Although its exact method of transmission is not currently known. Evidence suggests that the MERS-CoV virus can spread between individuals in close contact. Up to 75 percent of recent patients are believed to have contracted it from someone else (World Health Organization). This includes transmission from infected persons to healthcare professionals. Researchers are currently studying clusters of cases that have surfaced in some different countries to learn more about how this occurs.
While the virus comes from the same group of viruses that causes the common cold, the actual origin not yet determined. Suspected to have originated in some form of an animal. Certain animals such as camels and bats found to contain MERS-CoV antibodies. But researchers have yet to figure out exactly what role these creatures may actually play in the transmission of the virus.
Since there isn’t enough information available yet regarding how the MERS virus actually transmitted. Health officials currently placing a great deal of emphasis on personal hygiene. This includes washing hands thoroughly, using liquid hand sanitizers. And to carefully sanitize everyday objects like shopping carts, frequently handled by large numbers of people. In countries where there has been a high number of persons infected with MERS, many individuals have also taken to wearing masks in public places.
Because MERS a new disease, with no known treatments at the present time. Many experts from around the world are studying the virus in an attempt to create an effective vaccine. Some researchers believe the key to treating MERS can actually found in treatments that are currently available for SARS.
Experts from Saudi Arabia and other countries have been working on public-awareness campaigns with a goal of curbing the virus. But despite these efforts, the number of known cases has continued to grow.
At this point, MERS will continue to spread to other countries through unsuspecting travelers. Since there are currently no travel or trade restrictions in place to prevent this from occurring. It’s really up to the general public to make sure they are doing everything possible to avoid contracting the virus.
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