MERS survival guide: All you need to know about the virus infecting the Middle East

Published May 11th, 2014 - 11:43 GMT

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MERS Virus
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Image 1 of 17: Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is an illness caused by coronavirus MERS-CoV. It was first reported in 2012 in Saudi Arabia in a 60-year-old male whose flu-like symptoms changed to pneumonia ended in acute renal failure. It is different from any other coronavirus previously found in humans.

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Image 1 of 17: The World Health Organization confirms 261 cases and 93 deaths but the Saudi Health Ministry cites 339 cases and 102 deaths. Previously reported cases in Denmark seem to have evaporated from the Internet. So how many cases are there, really...and who’s keeping count? More needs to be done to track MERS.

Infants
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Image 1 of 17: Who’s at risk? The usual suspects! Infants, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with underlying chronic medical conditions such as diabetes. As with most illnesses, a weak immune system makes you more susceptible. However, prolonged close contact with patients can also result in healthy people being infected, so healthcare workers take care!

Symptoms
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Image 1 of 17: The disease can hit you without warning - some Saudi cases showed none of the typical symptoms which include fever, cough, shortness of breath and difficult breathing, while other patients suffered from multi-organ failure. Symptoms usually take 7 to 10 days to develop.

MERS-CoV tests
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Image 1 of 17: Special polymerase chain reaction (PCR) lab tests can detect infection. These are available at government health departments and some international labs. Otherwise, MERS-CoV tests are not routinely made commercially available to the public.

no cure for MERS
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Image 1 of 17: There is no cure for MERS - no vaccines or antiviral remedies have been invented yet. Recent studies published in two leading scientific journals show scientists from the US, China & Hong Kong found neutralizing antibodies that were able to prevent a key part of the virus from attaching to receptors that allow it to infect human cells.

hygiene
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Image 1 of 17: Face masks don’t work but proper hygiene does! Sneeze into tissues, wash hands often with soap & water or use hand sanitizer. Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands and avoid close contact (kissing, sharing cups) with sick people. Disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as keyboards and doorknobs.

passes between humans
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Image 1 of 17: It passes between humans and can spread between people in close contact. Clusters of cases in several countries are also being investigated. Doctors and nurses have voiced their concerns on Twitter, accusing the health ministry of trying to minimize the outbreak.

quarantine
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Image 1 of 17: Hospital quarantine can help prevent the disease spreading. Several new medical centers have been set up in Saudi Arabia to specifically handle MERS cases. The virus has a long incubation period that allows doctors to detect more infected persons, in turn enabling segregation of patients from the healthy public.

avoid infection
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Image 1 of 17: Improve your immune system to avoid infection. Fix your diet - avoid sugar, junk food and booze (although that is good life advice anyways!). Exercise, get enough sleep and try to de-stress. Have safe, healthy sex in a committed relationship (a 2004 study showed lovemaking reduces the risk of colds). What’s not to like about THAT prescription?

no vaccine
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Image 1 of 17: There is no vaccine, but a team from University of Maryland and biopharma company Novavax says it may have a new inoculation that may potentially quell coronaviruses like MERS and SARS. Their vaccine candidate - under development - has successfully induced neutralising antibodies that effectively block the virus from infecting cells in mice.

BAT
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Image 1 of 17: It came to humans from bats, so say studies that suggest bats from Saudi Arabia are the source of MERS, which spreads among animals living in confined spaces. The virus was found in a the feces of an Egyptian tomb bat, or Taphozous perforatus, a creature known to roost in abandoned buildings. Stay away from bat poo!

camel
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Image 1 of 17: It came to humans from camels - or camel snot! New research (based on high virus levels found in the nasal mucosa and conjunctiva of tested camels) says that nasal discharge from camels transmits the virus to humans. If true, mass vaccination of camels could be the most effective method of halting the spread of MERS.

Camel worker
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Image 1 of 17: Camel-workers say the link to dromedaries is - well - bull! Workers in Riyadh's sprawling camel market said the government has given them no advice or warning about MERS, and they expressed disbelief in any camel link. "It's a lie," a trader said, "We live with camels, we drink their milk, we eat their meat. There’s no disease."

kiss camel
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Image 1 of 17: It’s unknown where it comes from but most scientists agree it likely came from an animal. Aside from humans, MERS-CoV has been found in camels in KSA, Qatar, and Egypt, and a bat in KSA. More information is needed to identify the possible role that animals may play in MERS-CoV transmission.

KSA Health Ministry
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Image 1 of 17: The KSA Health Ministry has advised the Foreign Ministry to tell the world not to send their elderly and people with chronic illnesses on Hajj and Umrah. Beyond that, there have been no formal recommendations that anyone change their travel plans because of MERS.

advice
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Image 1 of 17: In short? Do what your mother has always advised. Eat your vegetables, get plenty of sleep, cover your mouth when you cough, and wash your hands - a lot. And, alhumduillah, we’ll all get through this safely!

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you will have seen the alarming headlines about Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), the deadly infection caused by the MERS-CoV coronavirus that’s raging through the region. The number of cases reported in April blew past the last two years' total number of incidents - with a shocking death rate tracking at 36%! What the heck is happening here? 

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said its global count of MERS cases in April hit 217, compared with 207 reported since the disease first surfaced in Saudi Arabia (KSA) in 2012. Outbreaks had been limited to six Arab countries including KSA, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Jordan and Kuwait (cases in Europe and Malaysia were limited to patients who had travelled to the Middle East). New infections just emerged in Egypt and the USA - MERS is going global.

Saudi is the MERS epicenter, with 396 total reported cases, and 109 fatalities. The virus has raised such concern that Saudi Health Minister, Abdullah al Rabeeah, was recently sacked by King Abdullah for saying that he “had no idea why MERS was surging.” The head of Jeddah's King Fahd Hospital was also canned. The problem is spreading across the Arabian Peninsula, but Saudi insists the situation is “overblown”.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that MERS is a "threat to the entire world" and suggests that the virus could evolve to be as catchable as the common cold (with the power to kill more than a third of its victims!). But, despite the fact that there is no vaccine or treatment, WHO hasn’t advised special screening at international travel points nor recommended any trade restrictions or tried to implement preventative measures - they haven’t even recommended a travel ban to KSA for Ramadan and Hajj!

Remember the SARS virus that roared through Asia a decade back, infecting over 8,000 people - killing about 10% of those diagnosed with the disease? Is the best defense to sit back and watch as MERS becomes a pandemic, as was the case with the 1918 Swine Flu (A H1N1) outbreak that infected 500 million people across the world, killing off 3% of the world's population? MERS poses a serious threat to us all, particularly to those of us living in or near the Arabian peninsula.  Information is power - arm yourself these MERS facts to help stay healthy.

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