What is MERS?

MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) is a contagious respiratory virus that mainly affects the lungs and breathing tubes. Although it is widely perceived as the new SARS, they are similar but not identical. Both are “coronaviruses” and the symptoms such as fever and cough apply to both viruses. However, it’s thought that SARS spreads faster (although is less deadly) compared to MERS.

When was the virus discovered?

The first case was reported in Saudi Arabia in September 2012, and later identified in Jordan in April 2012. According to the health officials, the virus is believed to have spread from the Arabian Peninsula.

How is the virus contracted?

MERS is highly contagious, it can spread through close contacts, such as caring for or living with an infected person.

What are the symptoms of MERS?

Typical symptoms include fever, coughing and shortness of breath, which could then lead to more severe complications like pneumonia, diarrhea, and organ failure.

Who is at risk?

MERS can affect anyone. MERS has been found in patients younger than one years old to 99 years old. People with weakened immune systems are particularly at risk. For example the elderly, people with chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer, and lung diseases are more likely to succumb to the disease.

How deadly is MERS? 

At a fatality rate of 35%, 1,329 people have contracted the virus which to date has resulted in 468 deaths around the world.

Which countries are affected by MERS?

18 countries have reported cases of MERS so far. South Korea has the largest MERS outbreak outside of Sauda Arabia. The virus has so far killed 27 people in the country and is putting over 6,7000 in isolation.

Can MERS be prevented or cured?

Currently, there is no vaccine available, but CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has came out with a prevention list to better prevent infections that includes regularly washing your hands with soap, and avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.There is not a specific antiviral treatment that is recommended for the virus, however treatments that could relieve symptoms and support vital organ functions are within reach.

Should we be worried about MERS?

There may not be any MERS cases in Malaysia yet, but Thailand recently confirmed its first case of MERS, this means that the virus is no longer very far away from us. Deputy Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahaya said that the government will take necessary precautions to ensure the virus does not spread in our country. Malaysia has introduced some screenings at airports. WHO has not recommended restricting travel to countries with known cases, but encourages public awareness.

Tyler Lim