MERS Virus

Identified as a life threatening virus, MERS Corona have left the world struggling as to how it can be quarantined and be stopped from spreading.

First identified in the year 2012, MERS corona virus or the Middle Eastern Respiratory Corona virus causes acute respiratory illness, severe kidney failure and shortness of breath among the persons it affect. Medical experts identified the virus to be related to the once worldwide scare, SARS virus.

MERS in Numbers

Since its identification, the MERS corona virus has been reported to have caused deaths worldwide. Its origin is from the Middle Eastern countries which include Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

In the statistics of the World Health Organization and current risk assessment, there have been 401 people in 12 countries who were affected of the virus and 93 of whom have been reported to die from the said respiratory problem. The largest outbreak of the said virus has been noted in Saudi Arabia with 23 confirmed cases last April-May 2013 period.

In the past two weeks, heightened alert over the virus infection and spread has been given since cases have already been confirmed in countries like Greece, Malaysia, Jordan and the Philippines. And by May 3, the United States Health officials have confirmed that the virus has entered the states through a US citizen who went back to the country after living in Saudi Arabia. Tunisia, France and Italy have also been added to the list after cases have been identified in said countries.

The MERS virus has been feared to pose an outbreak panic like the SARS virus had in the year 2003 which has killed almost 800 people from around the globe. A person to person spread seems to be the most notable reason of the current outbreak although MERS can’t be easily spread, unlike SARS.

MERS CorVirus
The MERS CorVir under the microscope. Photo from NIAID Flickr.

Cause of MERS Virus

The first MERS virus has been identified back in April 2012 wherein it recorded its first death in November of the same year. For about some time, the virus’ origin has been a mystery, until some research has put a light to it. The possible cause —camels.

Researchers from the Colombia University, EcoHealth Alliance and the King Saud University has isolated MERS virus, live, from two single humped camels. These camels are known as the dromedaries. The virus from the said camels have substrains that matched those virus isolated from the humans affected of the MERS coronavirus.

This new findings has lead to various questions as to how much more of the animal kingdom is affected and will the strain be ever stopped? (More frequently asked questions for the virus can be found in CDC or the US’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention website, click here) . As we can remember, the SARS virus back in 2003 has been found in and spread by bats, as such, it has been feared that there can be possibilities that the MERS virus may also be carried by other animals. Further studies though has been undergoing. A few puzzles though has been posted for this side of the issue since many of the patients diagnosed with the virus has no contact with camels which lead to the circle that, yes, the virus may have been from another person or the camel may not be the only one carrying this virus that thrives in surfaces.

But until then, camel milk and food have been advised to be forgone or be properly washed and processed, peeled and cooked before one eats it.

MERS Virus Symptoms

Several symptoms may vary from one person to another. But here are some of the most common and most noted symptoms of the newly evolved virus.

  1. Shortness of breath.
  2. Fever.
  3. Cough.
  4. Pneumonia
  5. Diarrhea
  6. Kidney Failure

The Business Insider Australia has outlined the virus’s journey during its course of infections in the body. Jennifer Welsh, the writer, summarized it into 8 points as it is currently understood:

  • First Contact
  • Incubation
  • symptoms Appear
  • Symptoms worsen
  • Pneumonia
  • Respiratory condition worsens, intubation is required
  • Multiple organ dysfunction
  • death

5 Things you Need to Know

Knowledge of the virus is still the best key in preventing the condition. Although it is expected that MERS may undergo still some genetic changes, several health experts and facilities all over the world have been collaborating to find some possible cure.

The NBC news through Maggie Fox has listed five things you need to remember about the virus.

    • It’s new.
    • It’s deadly.
    • It doesn’t spread easily.
    • It has no treatment (yet)
    • No one knows its exact origin.

To discuss above things in our point of view, it must first be remembered that MERS virus is still undergoing some changes and some genetic change.

Since it’s relatively new, a lot of health care professionals and scientist are still grappling at the idea of the virus. But one thing though has been sure, it is deadly. Although it might be a little assurance, its condition of being not able to be spread easily can help a lot in slowing down its effect. Unlike SARS, as we mentioned above, MERS virus may take time to be spread although a person to person contact is the best possible way to have it in your system.

Different studies on how to cure the virus have been vastly widespread all over the world. The study of which has been joined in by Hong Kong and Chinese experts who were trying to subdue the condition and help in the outbreak control. While two antibodies have been isolated and deemed to help the quest for anti-dote as found by researchers based in Harvard and China, nothing’s been confirmed yet.

Although it is said that camels might be its possible carrier, experts are still trying to fathom its origin and how it evolve into something like the corona virus.

Another thing though pointed out in a CNN article by Ashley Hayes, officials have noted that the virus may be a “spring thing” since similar increase of cases have been noted last spring in 2013. Seasonal patterns have been looked into as to why the virus has been easily transmissible during a certain season.

How to Prevent and Avoid MERS Virus Infection

Although one can’t really tell whether the person next to you has it, there can be precautionary measures you can do to strengthen your immunity and to prevent its spread in case you are suspected of having it.

    1. Cover mouth when sneezing. Make sure you dispose your tissues properly. And have your nose covered when in public places wherein you will be meeting persons from different countries like in airports.
    2. Wash hands frequently. Use soap and water. Have your alcohol or sanitizer ready in hand.
    3. Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
    4. Avoid meats that are undercooked or uncooked since they might be affected. Unwashed fruits and vegetables as well as drinks that aren’t possibly safe should be forgone. Eat only at restaurants that you trust especially if you are abroad.
    5. When you have traveled abroad and have exhibit symptoms after, seek medical advice. Some common symptom you should be alert to is fever, sore throat and runny nose. Diarrhea too can be a possible signal.
    6. Wear surgical masks if you are already exhibiting symptoms.
    7. Avoid public gatherings if it is unnecessary.
    8. If the symptoms has all been there and have been heightened, go to the nearest medical facility, seek for medical attention and inform your doctor especially if you have been travelling within 14 days of acquiring the symptoms.
    9. Prior to these all, strengthen your immune system by eating the right food, getting fit through exercise, and getting the right supplement. Although it can’t altogether push away the virus, but in case you get in contact to it, your immunity against it may save you and may give you some time until you get medical help.

People who are in higher risk for the condition include those who have diabetes, chronic lung disease, those who have prior kidney failure or those who have low immune system. Countries all over the world has been doing some medical response to lower the effects of the virus and to prevent its spread while the anti-dote has yet to be developed. The Saudi Arabia Ministry of Health had put up efforts to combat the MERS virus, outlined data is found here.

Government Warnings on MERS Virus

Health advice has already been issued by countries all over the world to help travelers avoid contact of the virus. The UK has travel advice especially to its citizens who will be participating in the incoming Hajj and Umrah, find the advice here. The Australian government’s health department too has put a heightened alert and seeks awareness among its traveling citizens in accordance to the WHO’s travel restriction advice. Australian government has special info and factsheet for advice for those who will travel as pilgrims for the Hajj and Umrah in the Saudi Arabia. Singapore has called for heightened vigilance against MERS while the Philippine government urged its citizen to get clearance from Middle Eastern countries where they came from before going back to the Philippines.

The Saudi Government on the other hand has issued advice for the incoming Hajj and Umrah wherein pilgrims who are at higher risk of contracting the virus are asked to take more precautionary measures or are discouraged from going, some would have their visa denied. This has been applied to those who are 65 years and older, children under 15 years old, those with the kidney, heart diseases and those who have low immune system. Pregnant women too are in the list of those who will get no visa as a precaution.

Image Credit: Eneas via Flickr