What is Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS)?: Explained

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Deadly disease Ebola claimed thousands of lives in 2014 and this year a disease called MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus) is making headlines day-by-day.

Till now, it has claimed two lives in South Korea and over 822 schools have been closed for fears of student contagion.


A 71-year-old man and a 58-year-old woman became the latest fatalities of the severe disease.

In South Korea, the 35 infected people comprised two in their 20s, four in their 30s, 10 in their 40s, seven in their 50s and 70s each, five in their 60s. No infection case among minors has been reported so far. [Also Read: What is Ebola?]

Let us know more about MERS:

  • MERS is a viral respiratory illness caused by a new type of corona-virus called MERS-CoV, that is similar to the one causing Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
  • The current outbreak has been traced to a 68-year-old man diagnosed after returning from a trip to Saudi Arabia.
  • The first case was reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. MERS has now infected 1,161 people globally, with 436 deaths. More than 20 countries have been affected, with most cases in Saudi Arabia.
  • MERS is considered a deadlier but less infectious cousin of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed hundreds of people when it appeared in Asia in 2003.
  • More than 20 countries have been affected by the virus, which has no known cure or vaccine, with most cases in Saudi Arabia where it has claimed more than 400 lives since 2012.
  • In 2014, Kerala health department was on high alert after increasing number of the MERS cases were reported in Saudi Arabia. Twenty-five percent of more than three million Keralites who work abroad are in Saudi Arabia.
  • The illness is believed to have first occured in camels. The virus affects the upper respiratory system.
  • According to Newsweek report, Coronaviruses are a common group of viruses grouped into four types: alpha, beta, gamma and delta. As far as researchers know, humans can only be infected by alpha and beta coronaviruses. These include alpha 229E and NL63, as well as beta OC43, HKU1, SARS-CoV and and MERS-CoV.

Early Signs and Symptoms

The virus has an incubation period of five to six days, but a person can begin to show symptoms as early as two days or as long as 14 days after an initial exposure.

Following are the symptoms:

  • Severe acute respiratory illness
  • Fever, cough/ runny nose
  • Shortness of breath
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Chest pain
  • Body ache, headache
  • Sore throat
  • Pneumonia
  • Kidney failure
There is no available vaccine or specific treatment recommended for the disease, and its fatality rate is 40.7 percent.
Pain relievers and oxygen therapy in severe cases.
  • Regularly wash your hands with soap and clean water.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw used tissues in the trash immediately, and then wash your hands.
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs.
  • Avoid touching your face, mouth and nose with unwashed hands.
  • Don't share cups, utensils or other items with sick people.
Who is at risk?
It can prove deadly for people who suffer from diabetes, cancer, heart disease, lung or kidney problems, HIV and other problems of the immune system and chronic disease.
In which parts of the world, MERS has been reported?
Arabian Peninsula, Middle East, Africa, Europe, Asia and the United States.
How is WHO responding to the MERS outbreak?

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.

Click to read more about MERS

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