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Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

What is MERS-CoV?


Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or (MERS-CoV) is a relatively new type of severe respiratory illness.

Infection with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. The disease is believed to have started in camels, but most cases now stem from human-to-human transmission.

One of the first people to be diagnosed was seen by doctors in the UK after returning from the Middle East.

What are the symptoms of MERS-CoV?

Patients treated for MERS-CoV have had symptoms including:

Many of the milder symptoms are also seen in more common illnesses, such as colds and flu. Anyone with these symptoms who's been to the Middle East recently should let doctors know about their travel, especially if symptoms worsen.

How is MERS-CoV treated?

Some patients with MERS have been admitted to hospital initially suspected of having pneumonia and were given antibiotics.

Patients with MERS-CoV who suffer acute respiratory failure may need to use a ventilator machine to breathe with oxygen.

Hospitals are briefed to keep anyone suspected of having MERS-CoV isolated to help stop infection spreading.

How is MERS-CoV different from SARs?

Diagnosis of MERS-CoV may involve taking samples from the lower respiratory tract, plus urine, blood and stool (poo) samples.

According to research published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases, the virus has been most apparent in the respiratory tract and in urine, which may help explain the kidney failure.

Low concentrations of the virus were seen in stool samples, which is a key difference to SARS, which has higher virus signs in these tests.

This difference helps researchers understand how the new virus spreads inside the body.

This is important for diagnosis and infection control.

No vaccine is available to prevent MERS yet, but trials are underway.

Researchers say mapping the genetic data of the new virus is important in understanding the risk it poses.

Will MERS-CoV become a pandemic?

French researchers writing in the Lancet in July 2013 reported that MERS-CoV does not yet have the potential to cause a pandemic.

The team from the Institut Pasteur in Paris say MERS-CoV has not spread as rapidly or as widely as SARS did.

Based on cases so far, their 'worst case' estimates are that one infected person could infect eight or more people, which they don’t think could lead to a rapid spread across the population.

They do caution though that milder MERS-CoV cases may not have been detected, which would affect their predictions.

What advice are UK health officials giving?

Public Health England says travellers could bring MERS into the UK but the risk is very low.

It also says that the risk of people being infected if they travel to the Middle East or South Korea is very low.

Specific advice to people visiting the Middle East is to avoid any unnecessary contact with camels.

Travellers should practise good general hygiene measures, such as regular hand washing with soap and water at all times, but especially before and after visiting farms, barns or market areas.

Visitors are advised to avoid raw camel milk and camel products, or any type of food that may have been contaminated with animal secretions, unless washed or peeled or thoroughly cooked.

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Published on June 17, 2015

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