Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which was first identified in the Middle East in 2012, is caused by the Coronavirus (therefore called Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome-Coronavirus or MERS-CoV). While MERS-CoV has been categorized as low-risk in the U.S., these 10 facts about MERS-CoV will help travelers in making informed judgments about travel and general precautions:
- Between 2012 and December 2016, 1,841 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS-CoV have been reported to the World Health Organization (WHO), 80 percent of which have been from Saudi Arabia.
- The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has issued a Level 2 Alert, signifying “Practice Enhanced Precautions,” for people traveling to the Arabian Peninsula.
- MERS-CoV is communicable in nature. However, it does not easily pass from human to human unless there is close contact, such as in a healthcare setting. Though we still do not know of the virus’s exact communication method, it is thought to be transmitted through an infected person’s respiratory secretions such as coughing.
- MERS-CoV is a zoonotic virus, which means that it is transmitted between animals and humans. Studies have shown that the virus has been transmitted to humans through direct or indirect contact with infected dromedary camels.
- The WHO recommends that people traveling to the Arabian Peninsula avoid contact with camels and are advised against drinking camel milk or raw camel urine and eating undercooked meat of any kind, especially camel meat.
- Once infected, a person shows symptoms like fever and cough with initial clinical features symptomatic of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
- Outside of the Arabian Peninsula, the largest known outbreak of MERS occurred in the Republic of Korea in 2015. The patient zero for this outbreak was identified as a traveler returning from the Arabian Peninsula.
- MERS has been categorized as a very low-risk illness in the U.S. Only two positive cases have ever been reported in the U.S., and both of these cases were among healthcare providers who had worked in the Arabic peninsula.
- The mortality rate for MERS-CoV patients is around 35 percent. However, those that died have been known to have an underlying medical condition. Some of the reported pre-existing conditions included cancer, diabetes and chronic lung, heart and kidney disease. In addition, people with weakened immune systems are more likely to be infected or have a severe case of the disease.
- Most patients without any underlying pre-existing conditions exhibited mild or no symptoms and made a full recovery.
Since its first reported occurrence in 2012, epidemiologists have been trying to understand the patterns of the virus’s transmission from animals to humans. According to the WHO, the most urgent need is to understand better and identify the risk factors for the virus’s transmission so healthcare environments can be better equipped in case of another outbreak. Regardless, educating communities regarding these facts about MERS-CoV will help in establishing better surveillance and quarantines in the future.
– Jagriti Misra