An outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) was reported in Saudi Arabia on March 21, 2016. Mers-CoV is a viral respiratory illness new to humans. The first case was reported in 2012. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, MERS has a high mortality rate, three to four of every 10 patients who become ill with MERS die.
Caused by a coronavirus and found in camels, the illness has been linked to countries near the Arabian Peninsula. Health organizations such as WHO and the CDC advise against consuming raw camel products like meat and milk that is not pasteurized.
Due to travel, outbreaks have occurred in 26 countries throughout the globe, including cases in the U.S. The largest outbreak outside of the Middle East occurred in the Republic of North Korea in 2015.
A typical case of MERS begins with a cough, fever and shortness of breath. If the virus progresses, an individual can experience pneumonia, kidney failure or septic shock.
“It is not always possible to identify people with MERS-CoV early because the early symptoms are non-specific. For this reason, all health care facilities should have standard infection prevention and control practices in place for infectious diseases,” according to the World Health Organization. “It is also important to investigate the travel history of patients who present with respiratory infection.”
Human-to-human transmission has not been common except in places where there is extremely close contact, such as health care facilities. People with diabetes, renal failure, lung disease and compromised immune systems are especially vulnerable to becoming infected with MERS and should be evaluated immediately after being in close proximity to the disease.
There is not yet a vaccine for MERS or any specific antiviral treatment. Symptoms of the illness can be relieved with medical care. Preventative actions such as hand washing, avoiding those infected and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces. These actions serve as the only forms of protection at this point.
“WHO is working with clinicians and scientists to gather and share scientific evidence to better understand the virus and the disease it causes, and to determine outbreak response priorities, treatment strategies, and clinical management approaches,” WHO said about their response to MERS.
Of the four cases reported this month in Saudi Arabia, one patient died.
– Emily Ednoff