According to the CDC, the MERS virus was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. MERS, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, is a viral respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus called MERS-CoV. All of the cases so far have been linked to four countries close to the Arabian Peninsula. No cases have been identified in the U.S. Travelers going to the the Middle East from the U.S. are advised to be familiar with the symptoms of MERS since they are very similar to SARS.
Although no cases have reportedly surfaced in the U.S., the virus has been found in France, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Tunisia, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates. The CDC is alerting the public of the potential for the virus to spread further and cause more cases globally, including in the United States.
Margaret Chan, the head of the World Health Organization issued the following statement after the latest deaths were reported:
“The MERS virus a threat to the entire world.We understand too little about this virus when viewed against the magnitude of its potential threat. Any new disease that is emerging faster than our understanding is never under control. These are alarm bells and we must respond. The novel coronavirus [MERS virus] is not a problem that any single affected country can keep to itself or manage all by itself.”
The nasty virus has symptoms, including fever, cough, and shortness of breath with more than half of all people infected having died within days of contracting the virus from severe respiratory failure, kidney failure or both. So far scientists have not found a vaccine or treatment proven to be effective in humans. Research on a combination of existing drugs may help some patients but the drugs have only been tested in monkeys in labs thus far.
The CDC is advising that people who may be traveling to Middle Eastern countries for business or pleasure from the United States follow the same guidelines used during flu season, such as washing your hands often with soap and water for 20 second; covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze; avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unclean hands; avoid close contact, such as kissing, sharing cups, or sharing eating utensils with sick people; and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs, daily.
The CDC urges anyone who develops MERS symptoms, such as fever and symptoms of lower respiratory illness, such as cough or shortness of breath, within 14 days after traveling from countries in the Arabian Peninsula or neighboring countries, to see a health care professional immediately.