5 Facts About the MERS Virus
A newly identified virus in the Middle East that causes respiratory symptoms and concern among health officials. Here is what we know about this virus.
MERS, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, belongs to the coronavirus family, which is named because of the crown-like projection on their surfaces. There are five different coronaviruses that can infect humans, and most of them are moderate upper-respiratory infections, such as the common cold. SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) is also a member of the coronavirus family, The 2002 outbreak killed 800 people.
Like all viruses, MERS causes infections by invading host cells and taking over their processes to convert them to virus cells. Exactly how this happens, however, is not yet understood. Scientists do know that the MERS coronavirus is genetically much different from the SARS virus. Also, MERS disrupts human genes more aggressively and frequently than SARS, and MERS has a higher fatality rate.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says that MERS is spread from human-to-human, because of small clusters of transmission in multiple countries. In addition, doctors are finding that MERS may incubate in patients for longer than previously believed (between 9-12 days), which means patients suspected of having the virus may need to be quarantined longer to determine if they are infected.
In its early stages, MERS may be hard to distinguish from a cold or normal upper respiratory infection, but, in most cases patients with a severe MERS infection will develop higher fevers, confusion and more difficulty breathing. It’s not known whether MERS can also cause milder symptoms. In severe cases, some patients have also pneumonia and kidney failure, along with diarrhea and abdominal pain.
Living or traveling to the Middle East, specifically Saudi Arabia, can increase your chance of coming into contact with the virus. So far, the global case count is 49, with 24 deaths. Older men with existing medical conditions have been particularly vulnerable to MERS. However, the WHO warned that this trend could change.