MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome)

What is MERS?

Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) is a viral illness caused by a coronavirus, similar to what causes the common cold. However, MERS is much more serious than a cold, as it impacts the respiratory system and can lead to pneumonia. It was first discovered in humans in 2012 in Saudi Arabia and is found in other Middle Eastern countries as well, though infected travelers have spread the disease to Africa, Asia, Europe and the United States.

If you have recently traveled to the Arabian Peninsula, you may be more likely to develop or spread MERS. Call your doctor right away if you become ill within 14 days of a trip to that area.

The disease is most likely to spread between people who are in close contact, and you may be able to avoid contracting it through excellent hygiene including regular hand washing and keeping personal items like cups and utensils to yourself.

What are the Symptoms of MERS?

Most cases of MERS are accompanied by a fever. You are also likely to have a cough and some trouble breathing or shortness of breath. Serious cases involve nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

MERS can also lead to pneumonia, and can spread to the organs and cause damage, especially to the kidneys.

In rare cases, people with MERS have no symptoms, but can spread the disease.

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Causes

The cause of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome is a virus called MERS-CoV which is short for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Contravirus. The first reported case of MERS occurred in 2012 in Saudi Arabia and it was later linked to other countries in the Arabian Peninsula. The virus is detected in camels, particularly in the meat, the organs, and in certain bodily fluids. The easiest way to contract MERS is to consume raw meat and unpasteurized milk from camels and to be in contact with the infected bodily fluids. While it is not airborne and spreads easily like the common cold, MERS is only contagious when one person comes in close contact with someone who is infected.

How is MERS Treated?

There is no cure for MERS and treatment revolves around relieving symptoms and easing respiratory issues. Rest and plenty of fluids are vital, and fever or aches can be treated with an over-the-counter pain medication.

In serious cases, respiratory treatments including oxygen supplementation are necessary. If you have serious symptoms, your doctor may put you in the hospital. The illness is most likely to be dangerous to people with already existing diseases like diabetes or those who are older.

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Prevention

If travelers plan to visit the Middle Eastern countries where MERS is prevalent, they must take precautions to prevent the spreading and the infection of the virus. They should wash hands using soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer and avoid close contact with the infected people. They should also avoid touching their eyes, noses, and mouth with unwashed hands.

In the case of caregivers whose patients are infected with MERS, they must wear face masks, wash hands frequently, and clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects. For those who work with camels on a regular basis, they should use respiratory protection and clothes to protect skin and clothing when handling live camels or their meat. When they are done wearing the affected clothes, they must wash them immediately and they should be kept away from contact with the household.

In addition to private citizens, local public health authorities take measures to prevent MERS from spreading. They should receive notifications as soon as a patient is diagnosed with the virus to execute the proper prevention protocols. In the hospital setting, the staff immediately places the infected patient in the airborne infection isolation (AIIR). If the AIIR is not available, the patient must wear a face mask and be placed in a single-patient room with a closed door. Access to the patient must be limited to healthcare providers who wear protective clothing. These measures may be simple, but they are highly effective in the MERS prevention.