It kills with impunity. It shows no mercy.
In the relatively short time that it has surfaced on the planet, the virus responsible for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS has affected over 400 people in 12 different countries.
So far, over 90 patients have died, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More deaths are feared as the virus continues to rear its ugly head.
As of May 2, 2014, MERS cases have appeared in Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, France, Italy, Tunisia, the United States, and the Philippines. These cases have one thing in common: they all originated from Arabian Peninsula countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Jordan and Kuwait.
No one knows where the virus came from but some suspect it may have originated from bats or camels in the Middle East. One patient who became ill with MERS is believed to have come in contact with camels or drank camel milk.
Middle East countries also consume large amounts of camel meat. Researchers said the virus was probably transferred by African or Australian bats to camels that were later imported to the Middle East. One thing’s for sure though: the MERS virus is small but deadly.
MERS is a viral respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus called MERS-CoV. Coronaviruses are so named since they have crown-like projections. “Corona” is the Latin word for crown or halo. These are responsible for a host of diseases like the common cold and pneumonia.
MERS has been compared to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome that affected over 8,000 worldwide and killed 775 people from 2002 to 2003. Both are caused by coronaviruses but they are not the same.
The MERS virus was first reported in 2012 in Saudi Arabia. The first patient was a 60-year-old male who died of acute pneumonia and acute renal failure in Jeddah on June 24, 2012
The virus was then called “novel coronavirus” (nCov) to distinguish it from other coronaviruses. In May 2013, the Coronavirus Study Group of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses changed its name to MERS-CoV.
The symptoms of MERS are similar to the flu. They include fever, cough and shortness of breath. But that’s where the similarity ends. Unlike the flu, MERS has no specific treatment. There is no known vaccine to protect a person from the disease.
Fortunately, Dr. Michael Lin, an infectious disease specialist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, said MERS has a low rate of human-to-human transmission. Still, the virus can spread between people who are in close contact—all the more reason to stay away from sick people.
To protect yourself from MERS, the CDC advises the following:
Wash your hands with soap and water. Do this for 20 seconds. In the absence of soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue away afterwards.
Don’t touch your eyes, nose, and mouth with dirty hands.
Avoid close contact with sick people. Don’t kiss or share cups or eating utensils with them.
Clean and disinfect toys, doorknobs and frequently touched surfaces.
Lastly, don’t stay near animals, especially sick ones, in barns or farms. Wash hands before eating and after touching animals.
National Press Club & Philippine Dental Association awardee George Nava True II is the author of two bestsellers. For questions on health, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or text 0933-1366645.