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WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith

5th July 2013 -- Three people have now died in the UK from a new acute respiratory illness similar to SARs or severe acute respiratory syndrome. The virus was first referred to as the novel coronavirus. It is now known as Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus or MERS-CoV.

The total number of laboratory confirmed cases detected by the UK remains at four. There have been three deaths; two were reported in February, the latest death occurred this month in London.

The people who died had either returned to the UK from the Middle east, or had been in close contact with someone infected abroad.

Human coronaviruses are named after the crown-like projections on the surface of the virus when seen under a microscope.

What do we know about this infection? Read our FAQs.

What is MERS-CoV?

MERS-CoV is a new type of severe respiratory illness.

Infection with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome was first identified in September, 2012.

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

It has since been confirmed that the virus can be spread by close contact with other people, such as family members. One family member is thought to have picked up the virus while visiting a relative in hospital.

By the end of June 2013, there were 77 laboratory-confirmed cases around the world, including 40 deaths.

What are the symptoms of MERS-CoV?

Patients treated for MERS-CoVhavehad 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-CoV 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 breath 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 new 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 has been developed to prevent MERS-CoV yet.

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

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