If you follow the news, you've likely heard at least one segment about the MERS virus, which made its way over to the United States in May. MERS stands for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and is not a new illness. Many people in the U.S. are just hearing about it now because up until recently the infections had been limited to the Middle East (which explains the name). You can familiarize yourself with all the basic information about MERS, including where it comes from and what the symptoms are, by checking out the frequently asked questions below.
Q: From where does MERS originate?
A: The illness is caused by the coronavirus, a common virus that can infect the nose, sinuses, and upper throat. Most of the time it is not dangerous and only causes simple cold symptoms that go away with rest and medication. Almost everyone will catch a coronavirus at some point in his or her lifetime. For this reason, MERS is sometimes called MERS-CoV. The first incidence of the illness was reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and is believed to have been contracted from an animal common in the region, such as a camel or bat.
Q: What are the symptoms of the infection?
A: People who develop MERS will most often experience a cough, shortness of breath, and a fever.
Q: Is MERS dangerous?
A: The CDC is closely monitoring MERS cases throughout the world. This is because the illness can be very dangerous, and nearly 1 out of every 3 people who contracts a case ends up dying from it. Currently there is no known cure for the infection and all doctors can do is treat the symptoms.
Q: Is it contagious?
A: Yes, MERS is contagious. However, it isn't as easily spread as the common cold, which often spreads through families and friend groups very quickly. You can only catch MERS from someone if you are in close contact with that person. It also does not spread as easily between people as do other deadly viruses, such as SARS. Because of this, the risk the virus poses to the general public is relatively low.
Q: How common is MERS?
A: So far there have been more than 630 cases reported in 18 countries, and 193 of those people have died. While those numbers may seem high, it is important to remember that they actually represent a very low incidence of disease. You can put this in perspective by comparing it to SARS, a deadly but more contagious virus. That illness infected an estimated 8,000 people and killed 750 in its 2003 outbreak alone.
Q: How did MERS arrive in the United States?
A: Until very recently, MERS had only been reported in countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Jordan, Kuwait, Yemen, and Lebanon. However, travel-associated cases have sprung up in parts of Africa, Asia, and Europe. The infection was first recognized in the U.S. in two travelers from Saudi Arabia, although these cases were not related. Later, an Illinois resident who had been in contact with one of the travelers tested positive for MERS-CoV.
About the Author:
Iris Stone has worked as a freelance writer since 2011. Her writing has included content on medicine, healthcare, and education, although her interests are wide and varied. Prior to breaking into the freelance biz, Iris worked in sales for a health company and prior to that as an assistant in a chiropractic office. She is currently attending George Mason University and is majoring in Political Science. Check out her Google+ profile.