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What you need to know about MERS
The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is a relatively new respiratory illness that was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Caused by a novel coronavirus (MERS-CoV), there have since been reports of a MERS outbreak in over 21 other countries such as China, Thailand and the United Kingdom.
What are the symptoms?
MERS symptoms range from person to person, with some experiencing no symptoms (asymptomatic) or mild respiratory symptoms, to severe acute respiratory disease.
Those with viral symptoms have complained of a sore throat, headache and runny nose, as well as chills, body aches and shortness of breath. Gastrointestinal symptoms, such as diarrhoea and nausea/vomiting, have also been reported. More severe cases have resulted in pneumonia and kidney failure, with severe illness causing respiratory failure that requires further medical intervention.
Approximately 36 per cent of reported patients with MERS-CoV have died. However, the World Health Organization highlighted certain groups to be at a higher risk of severe MERS, such as older people, those with weakened immune systems, and those with chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes and chronic lung disease.
Based on reported cases, the incubation period for the MERS virus (the time between when a person is exposed to MERS-CoV and when they start to have symptoms) is usually about 5 or 6 days, however this can range from 2-14 days.
Who is at an increased risk of infection?
MERS can affect anyone. Reported cases have occurred in those younger than 1 year old, right up to 99 years old.
Recent travellers from the Middle East
If you develop a fever and respiratory symptoms of an illness or virus – such as a cough – within 14 days after travelling from countries in the Middle East, it is advised that you contact a health professional and mention your recent travel. Likewise, if you have had close contact with someone within 14 days after they travelled from a country in or near the Middle East, and the traveller has shown symptoms of a fever or respiratory illness, you should monitor your personal health for 14 days – starting from the day you were last exposed to the person.
It is advised that while showing symptoms of MERS, individuals stay home from work or school and postpone future travel in order to reduce the possibility of spreading illness to others.
People with exposure to camels
Although the source of infection and transmission modes of MERS-CoV are still not completely understood, there is growing evidence that the dromedary camel is a host species for the MERS-CoV. The World Health Organization posted a general precaution for anyone visiting farms, markets, or other places where animals are present – asking travellers to take extra care and practice general hygiene measures.
There is currently no vaccine or specific antiviral treatment available, with treatment based on the individual patient. However, individuals with MERS can seek medical attention to help relieve symptoms and get further advice.
The risk of contracting the MERS virus is very low. As a general precaution, it is advised that individuals take the following precautions:
- Wash hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be used.
- Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid personal contact with ill people.
- Frequently clean surfaces and objects, such as handles, bannisters etc.
- Avoid consuming raw or undercooked animal products, including milk and meat.
Until more is understood about the MERS virus, individuals with diabetes, chronic lung disease or renal failure, and those with an impaired immune system are considered to be at high risk of severe complications from the MERS-CoV infection.