In Kentucky, we are fortunate to have never seen a documented case of Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome — or MERS.
Regardless, MERS is a serious illness for which awareness is key. MERS is a illness caused by the Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus, or MERS-CoV. First reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012, this coronavirus is different than any previously found in humans.
While the source of the disease is not exactly known, it likely originated from an animal in the Arabian Peninsula. MERS-CoV has been found in camels in several countries. The Centers for Disease Control continues to investigate the role played by animals in the spread of this disease.
Humans diagnosed with MERS-CoV have usually travelled to countries in the Arabian Peninsula or have been in contact with an individual who has recently traveled to the area. That contact can be in the form of caring for, or living with, an infected person.
Like other coronaviruses, MERS-CoV is thought to spread from the cough or other respiratory secretions of an infected person. The CDC says the precise ways the virus spreads are not currently well understood.
MERS is similar to the common cold, but in a more potent form. MERS can be fatal in individuals with underlying health conditions — such as a compromised immune system. According to the CDC, about three to four out of every 10 people reported with MERS have died.
Most people confirmed to have MERS-CoV have had severe acute respiratory illness with fever, cough and shortness of breath.
The CDC confirmed two cases of MERS in 2014, both of which were healthcare providers who recently travelled from Saudi Arabia, where it's believed they contracted the virus.
According to the CDC, those most at risk for contracting MERS-CoV in the United States include recent travelers from the Arabian Peninsula; those in close contact with a travelers from the Arabian Peninsula; people who were recently in a healthcare facility in the Republic of Korea; people who live with or care for a MERS victim; healthcare personnel who do not use recommended infection-control precautions; and people who have had contact with camels.
Individuals who experience cold-like symptoms within 14 days of either traveling to one of these areas or coming into contact with someone who has travelled to these areas should report the symptoms to their physician immediately. It is important to call your physician's office before visiting, so the office staff can take precautions to keep the virus from spreading.
According to the CDC, you can help protect yourself from MERS-CoV and other respiratory illnesses by washing hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds or with alcohol-based hand sanitizer. You should also cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue in the trash. Also avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands; avoid sharing cups or eating utensils with sick people; and clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects, such as doorknobs.
While there is no current vaccine for MERS-CoV, the U.S. National Institutes of Health are currently exploring the possibility of developing one.
Additionally, there is no specific antiviral treatment for MERS-CoV at this time. Medical care for those with MERS-CoV includes help in relieving symptoms and, in severe cases, care to support vital organ functions, such as being placed on ventilator.