MERS virus – the next SARS?

Infectious Diseases

The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS virus) – the next SARS?

I am starting to get a lot of questions from worried parents about the MERS virus, as there are now more cases in the Middle East and one in the US over the weekend.

Here is what you need to know in a nutshell:

For now – there is no need to panic.

What is MERS virus?

It’s an RNA virus. It’s a type of coronavirus, first reported in 2012 when someone became ill with a respiratory illness.

Where is the MERS virus infecting people?

As of May 2, 2014, MERS has been reported in 238 people in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, the Phillippines, Malaysia and the United States. 92 people have died from the virus so far. Many of the infected individuals are health care workers caring for sick patients.

Is the MERS virus easy to catch?

I don’t think we know yet. In February 2013 the World Health Organization said, “the risk of sustained person-to-person transmission appears to be very low”. In May 2013, the WHO said the MERS virus is “a threat to the entire world.”

 

Where did MERS Virus come from?

Researchers aren’t sure, though some evidence links the virus’ origins to bats and camels. Being in contact with camels, eating their meat or drinking their milk may be a risk factor for infection. How it spread to humans we don’t yet know.

What are the symptoms of the MERS virus?

  • Respiratory symptoms – Cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Diarrhea
  • High fever
  • Kidney failure

Can you prevent infection with MERS?

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water or alcohol-containing solution
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough
  • Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands
  • Avoid close contact with sick people
  • Disinfect toys that came in contact with sick individuals

Is there a vaccine for MERS virus?

There is no vaccine for the MERS virus yet, though the development of one may be in the works.

Coronavirus treatment

The only treatment to date for the MERS virus is supportive care to help relieve symptoms. About 30% of those affected have died.

How do we test for it?

Some labs are able to do special testing on blood called polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing.

For now – there is no need to panic. I will update you as there is more information available.

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Dina M. Kulik, MD, FRCPC, PEM

About Dina M. Kulik, MD, FRCPC, PEM

Dina is a wife, mother of 4, and adrenaline junky. She loves to share children’s health information from her professional and personal experience. More About Dr Dina.

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