Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV)
What is it?
MERS-CoV is the virus that causes Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). It is a coronavirus, part of the same family of viruses that causes the common cold and SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). MERS is a zoonotic disease, meaning it passes from animals to humans. It’s thought that camels are a major source of infection in people. Raising camels, eating undercooked camel meat, and drinking raw camel milk or urine are risk factors for the disease in humans. MERS-CoV can spread from person to person, usually through close contact.
Where does it occur?
The disease was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012, and most reported cases have been linked to countries in and around the Arabian Peninsula.
According to WHO, from 2012 through 16 September 2018, the total global number of laboratory-confirmed MERS cases reported to WHO is 2254, with 800 associated deaths.
In 2015, a large outbreak occurred in South Korea, following a single “super-spreader” transmitting the virus to 82 people in three days.
More recently, from 1 June 2018 athrough to 16 September 2018, the International Health Regulations (IHR 2005) National Focal Point of Saudi Arabia reported 32 additional cases of MERS, including 10 deaths. Cases have also been recently reported in South Korea and the UK.
Who does it affect?
MERS-CoV can infect people of any age. It causes a severe acute respiratory illness with fever, cough and shortness of breath. Gastrointestinal symptoms can also occur. Around 36% of people reported as having MERS have died, many of whom already had an underlying medical condition. There is no specific antiviral treatment for MERS-CoV infection.
How do we currently prevent infections?
People are advised to try and prevent getting infected by avoiding undercooked or raw camel products, and by being hygienic, especially around animals. There is currently no vaccine against MERS-CoV.