MERS Explained: What Is It? How Does the Coronavirus Spread?

South Korean authorities on 9 September confirmed the first case of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus since the outbreak that affected the country in 2015 leaving 187 infected and 38 dead.

The patient, a 61-year-old man, was diagnosed with the virus on 8 September after returning from a business trip in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with transit in Kuwait, the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said. Around 20 people who were in close contact with the patient, including passengers and crew members of his flight and immigration officers, have been quarantined to prevent the spread of the virus.

Earlier in August 2018, United Kingdom had also confirmed their first case of MERS since 2013. The patient, a resident of Middle East, had flown into the country.

Here’s what you need to know about about the virus.

What is MERS?

This is the first case of MERS in South Korea since its outbreak recorded between May and December 2015.

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS is an ailment caused by a virus known as coronavirus. Though this syndrome is closely related to SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), it doesn’t spread as easily and as quickly as SARS.

As per a report in the Indian Journal of Medical Research, the MERS virus is a zoonotic virus meaning it can be transmitted from animals to humans. While the natural carriers of this virus is believed to be bats, several strains of this virus have also been found in camels in the Middle-Eastern countries.

This is the first case of MERS in South Korea since its outbreak recorded between May and December 2015. The virus was first detected in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and subsequently expanded to other countries.

Worldwide MERS has been reported in 26 countries till now and as per World Health Organization, 2144 cases have been confirmed which included at least 750 related deaths.

Signs & Symptoms of MERS

The usual symptoms of this virus are cough, fever and shortness of breath.

As per WebMD, the usual symptoms of this virus are cough, fever and shortness of breath. The incubation period of the virus may be between 2 and 14 days.

Some of the other symptoms may include

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

The infected individual may also get pneumonia which might cause harm to some of the organs. In certain cases, there might be no symptoms at all.

Older adults or people with weak immune system may be at risk of the coronavirus. This virus is common worldwide and affects both, humans and animals.

How Does The Coronavirus Spread?

While researchers are still making efforts to understand the behavior of this coronavirus, public health experts say that this virus spreads through close contact. So the dangers of health workers contracting the virus from infected people is high.

The mortality rate of MERS in South Korea reached 20 per cent during the outbreak, below the figures between 30 and 40 per cent that were recorded in other areas.

Most of the 38 deaths that occurred due to the virus in South Korea were elderly people or patients affected by other illnesses.

Treatment

Currently there is no vaccine available for MERS but the treatment can be aimed at relieving some of the symptoms.

Treatment may include rest, consumption of a lot of fluids and prescription of some pain relievers. In extreme cases, oxygen therapy may be required.

How Do We Reduce The Risk of Infection?

Wash your hands with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds.

Though the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus doesn’t spread that easily, it is still advisable to observe certain hygiene practices:

  • Avoid close contact with the infected people and do not share any items like towels, utensils etc with them.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds.
  • Always cover your mouth with a tissue while coughing or sneezing and dispose off the tissue immediately.
  • Use a sanitizer at all times and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.
  • Do not touch your face, mouth or nose with unclean hands.

Should India Be Worried?

As per a report in the Indian Journal of Medical Research, there have been no confirmed reports of the virus in India but public health experts believe that the general public must take the necessary precautions since a large number of Indians travel frequently from and to the Middle East countries.

And we must remember that India had a close brush earlier with SARS in 2003, which is also caused by a coronavirus.

(With inputs from IANS)

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