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MERS: What to Know

mers virus

Key to helping combat the spread of any illness are awareness and knowledge about methods of prevention. That’s why we are shedding more light on Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), an acute respiratory illness caused by the MERS Coronavirus. Since 2012, MERS has been infecting people in countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula. It has spread to other areas of the world through international travel.

MERS is a novel virus meaning that it is new to humans. Researchers surmise that it originated in camels, via camel milk and raw camel meat, and possibly bats. To date, MERS is being actively studied because there is much more we need to learn about the transmission of the virus and how to better control it. 

Symptoms of MERS can often be quite severe and include cough, fever, shortness of breath, and sometimes even pneumonia. In some cases, MERS can cause diarrhea and kidney failure. Unlike the flu, MERS is not subject to easy ongoing transmission, except in the health care environment. About 40 percent of those in Saudi Arabia who have become sick with MERS have been health care workers. From what we do know about the virus, it is likely transmitted via the respiratory route through close contact with infected people. The virus can also be found in bodily fluids. It has a two- to 14-day incubation period, with symptoms appearing an average of five days after exposure. It is currently believed that someone is not contagious until they begin showing symptoms of the virus.

There is no treatment or vaccine for MERS; only supportive therapy will help. This includes fluids, fever reduction and/or ventilation support. The following people are at a higher risk for contracting MERS: 

  • People who have recently travelled to or from the Arabian Peninsula
  • People who have been in close contact with someone who has either travelled to the Arabian Peninsula or who is already sick with the MERS virus
  • People who have been exposed to camels
  • Health care workers who are not using personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Elderly people and those with weakened immune systems
  • People with underlying health conditions

Prevention for MERS is similar to any other virus out there:

  • Frequent and thorough hand washing is vitally important as well as avoiding contact with anyone who you suspect or know is sick.
  • Cover your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing and dispose of used tissues.
  • Never touch your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands, and disinfect frequently used surfaces. 
  • If you feel you might be sick with this virus, call your doctor immediately so that he or she can help you determine what to do next.

For more information about MERS, visit the CDC website: http://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/mers/