All about MERS or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome

Health / Life

MERS virus in the human lungs / Photo by Shutterstock


The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS or MERS-CoV) is recognized as a viral respiratory illness first reported in the year 2012 in Saudi Arabia. So far, all the known cases have been associated with residence or travel in and around the Arabian Peninsula. Although it remains a mystery as to where the illness comes from, there is a possibility that it started in the animal as it has been found in bats camels.

The MERS Symptoms

Symptoms of MERS are similar to pneumonia, ranging from acute to severe respiratory illness. The most common MERS symptoms include fever, shortness of breath, and cough. The associated symptoms are chills, body aches, chest pain, sore throat, headache, malaise or a feeling of being unwell, diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea.

The serious complication of MERS may lead to pneumonia or organ failure, particularly kidney.


Woman with sore throat / Photo by Getty Images


Why is it Considered as the MERS Camel Flu?

Antibodies to MERS virus were identified in camels located in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Qatar. That is why the symptoms are sometimes referred to as the MERS camel flu. In healthcare settings, human to human transmission was also observed. Based on the findings, bats may transmit the virus to the camels and camels pass it to humans.

For the transmission of the virus, a close contact between an infected camel and a person is needed. The virus may be passed through air or consumption of uncooked camel meat or camel milk that is raw.


MERS Corona virus transfer from camel to human / Photo by Shutterstock


What are the Common MERS Causes?

MERS-CoV is identified to be a zoonotic virus, which means that it can be transmitted from animals to human beings. One of the MERS causes is exposure to camel products or camels. Camels appear to be the main source of this infection.

MERS-CoV has been previously detected in camels in various countries, but not in livestock. Infected camels, although not observably ill, may cause the virus and spread it from person to person via respiratory droplets.


Camels from the farm causes the MERS-CoV virus / Photo by Getty Images


The Recorded MERS Fatalities

In 2015, MERS affected a total of 186 people living in South Korea, where 36 of those died. All this occurred after one person brought the respiratory illness from the Middle East. So far, this was the largest outbreak and recorded as part of MERS fatalities.


Wearing mask for MERS protection / Photo by Getty Images

MERS Diagnosis - How Middle East Respiratory Syndrome is Diagnosed

A doctor will first have to examine the patient and ask for symptoms and their recent activities, such as travel. Samples will then be taken from the respiratory tract of the patient and these samples were to be assessed. To confirm the presence of MERS virus, a Polymerase chain reaction testing will be conducted. This test as a part of the MERS diagnosis will be conducted 10 days after illness begins. If the result is negative 28 days after the onset of reported symptoms, then the person is not infected with MERS.

To check if the individual has been previously infected in the past, blood tests will be conducted. This is to test for the antibodies to MERS.


Scientist hand putting the DNA sample into the PCR-cycle machine / Photo by Shutterstock


What are the Available MERS Treatments?

Since MERS is caused by the same virus as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), the same approach to SARS treatment will be made. Oxygen supplementation may be needed. No medication has yet been proven to treat the virus but the MERS treatment will depend on the medical condition of the patient. Some medications were tried in both MERS-CoV and SARS. 

To prevent the spread of germs, the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer, avoidance of touching eyes, mouth, and nose, frequent hand washing using water and soap, and avoidance of close contact with sick individuals are the necessary steps.


Washing hand with soap to prevent spreading of germs / Photo by Getty Images