The MERS-CoV is different from the virus that caused the worldwide outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, but they share some similarities.
OVER 400 people have been confirmed infected with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) since April 2012, and more than 100 have died from it.
Previously unknown and initially referred to as Novel Coronavirus (NCoV), MERS-CoV was first discovered in September 2012. It was found in samples taken from a patient in Saudi Arabia who had died from a severe respiratory infection and kidney failure that June.
Although the virus belongs to the coronavirus family, it is different from all other known coronaviruses.
International SOS’ regional medical director for Medical Consulting, South and South-East Asia, Dr Philippe Guibert said that of the known cases, most have suffered a very severe, pneumonia-like, chest infection.
But some cases have been mild, and some did not experience any symptoms at all.
Most cases have originated from the Arabian Peninsula (Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen have all reported cases).
Several people have become infected in other countries, including France, Italy, Tunisia and the United Kingdom, when people who had acquired the infection in the Middle East passed it on to close contacts within their own families or within a hospital setting.
Germany diagnosed and treated a patient who had likely acquired their infection in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Spain’s only case to date acquired MERS-CoV whilst on pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.
“In April 2014, Greece, Malaysia, Egypt and the Philippines reported imported cases.
“The 54-year old Malaysian patient who contracted the virus when he visited Saudi Arabia to perform umrah died, marking the first reported death in the South-East Asia region.
“Media sources reported that over 60 contacts of the patient are being monitored in Johor.
“The Filipino patient worked as a nurse in the UAE. He had no symptoms and he also succumbed to the virus.
“The Greek patient resides in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He became unwell while visiting Greece and was tested positive for the disease.
“The 27-year-old Egyptian national who resides in Riyadh, arrived in Cairo on 25 April. He has been quarantined and is reported to be in a stable condition,” said Dr Guibert.
What are the symptoms?
Most patients have had fever and severe respiratory illness with cough and breathing difficulties.
Some patients have progressed to kidney failure. Some also had abdominal pain and diarrhoea. Many of those who have been severely ill have underlying medical conditions.
There have been cases with less severe disease and some who did not show any symptoms. Tests on some asymptomatic people indicated they had been infected previously with MERS-CoV. This suggests some cases go undetected.
How are people catching MERS-CoV?
It is unknown for certain at this time how “sporadic” cases are occurring, but it is thought that humans become infected through direct contact with an animal or through a contaminated environment.
There is increasing evidence linking camels to transmission of the disease.
Some people have caught their infection from other people who are infected with MERS-CoV. This has only happened in a limited fashion. Such cases have occurred in healthcare workers, family members, patients who shared a hospital room, and co-workers.
It is presumed that MERS-CoV spread to them in the same way as other respiratory infections like colds and flu do, through infected respiratory droplets. The sick person expels these when they cough, sneeze or talk.
Others can get the disease via contact with these contaminated droplets. The virus has also been found in stool samples from infected people. This raises the possibility that people could become infected after contact with objects contaminated with faecal material.
There is no evidence of sustained person-to-person spread of MERS-CoV.
How did it originate?
This is still being investigated. Initial reports indicate the virus is most similar to a coronavirus found in bats. Recently, the virus has been found in camels.
Is it the same as SARS?
The MERS-CoV is different from the virus that caused the worldwide outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
(SARS) in 2003, but they share some similarities.
They both belong to the coronavirus family, and both are similar to coronaviruses found in bats. Both can cause severe respiratory illness in humans.
While the SARS virus spread among humans readily, so far, the MERS coronavirus does not appear to do this.
Is there a test to detect MERS-CoV?
Yes. Samples are taken from the respiratory tract (nose, throat, mucous) and tested for the virus. Stool samples are also sometimes used.
However, these tests may not be routinely available. Blood tests to detect antibodies against MERS have yet to be widely distributed.
How is it treated?
There are no specific drugs or medications against it. Patients who are severely ill require supportive treatment, often in intensive care.
Can I travel to the Middle East?
Yes. Authorities advise that the risk to the average person appears to be low at this time. There are no travel restrictions.
How can I protect myself from infection?
Although it is uncertain how people have been infected, general hygiene measures can prevent many illnesses:
·Wash your hands frequently.
·Avoid touching your face.
·Keep some distance from people who are coughing, sneezing or appear sick.
·Avoid unnecessary direct contact with live animals, their waste products and environment.
·Ensure any food or drink for consumption is safe - thoroughly washed, peeled, boiled, and cooked through.
Dr Guibert advises that anyone who develops a fever and respiratory symptoms (such as cough), which are more than mild, should seek medical attention and mention their travel history, especially if they have recently been in the Middle East.
This article was provided by International SOS.