MERS epidemic

The deadly epidemic of many respiratory diseases has been spreading globally. Recently a novel viral fever called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) has been claiming many lives in Korea.

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is an illness caused by a coronavirus called MERS-CoV. MERS affects the respiratory system (lungs and breathing tubes). Most MERS patients develope severe acute respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath. About 3-4 out of every 10 patients reported with MERS have died.

Health officials first reported the disease in Saudi Arabia in September 2012. Through retrospective investigations, health officials later identified that the first known cases of MERS occurred in Jordan in April 2012. So far, all cases of MERS have been linked to countries in and near the Arabian Peninsula. Little is known about the condition, but experts believe that it is most likely humans who were first infected by camel.MERS-CoV has spread from ill people to others through close contact, such as caring for or living with an infected person. MERS can affect anyone. MERS patients have ranged in age from younger than 1 to 99 years old but the more vulnerable are those people with low immunity power. MERS is a virus from the same family as SARS i.e Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which killed around 800 people worldwide after it first appeared in China in 2002. This virus causes a lung infection, coughing and breathing difficulties, and fever.

There is no vaccines and specific antiviral treatment recommended for MERS-CoV infection. Individuals with MERS can seek medical care to help relieve symptoms. For severe cases, current treatment includes care to support vital organ functions. The disease kills approximately 30 per cent of those infected.

According to recent WHO figures, 496 MERS cases have been detected since September 2012. Health Ministry of Saudi Arabia confirmed that 463 of these cases have been in the Gulf nation alone. Recently more than 150 cases and 14 deaths in the Republic of Korea have been confirmed by the WHO, all linked to healthcare facilities.

Since there is no any specific treatment, it is recommended to follow cough etiquette, wash hands often with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers, avoid touching own eyes, nose or mouth, avoid crowded places, avoid direct contact with infected persons and not sharing personal gadgets, not shaking hands or hugging to greet.