MERS virus 2013 news update: The MERS virus has claimed the lives of three more people including two women and one man bringing the total number of MERS virus fatalities globally to 50. The latest three victims of the SARS-like MERS virus were identified on Saturday by the health ministry in Saudi Arabia, according to a Sept. 7, 2013, Aljazeera MERS virus news report.
According to a CDC update on Sept. 6, 2013, the MERS virus was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. MERS, or also called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, is a viral respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus called MERS-CoV.
So far, all cases of the MERS virus have been linked to four countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula. No cases have been identified in the U.S. However, travelers into the Middle East are advised to be familiar with the symptoms of MERS since they are very similar to SARS.
Besides Saudi Arabia, MERS virus cases have so far been found in France, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Tunisia, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates. The CDC recognizes the potential for the virus to spread further and cause more cases and clusters globally, including in the United States.
MERS virus symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. About half of all people infected with the MERS virus have died.
Margaret Chan, the head of the World Health Organization is calling the MERS virus "a threat to the entire world."
"We understand too little about this virus when viewed against the magnitude of its potential threat. Any new disease that is emerging faster than our understanding is never under control. These are alarm bells and we must respond. The novel coronavirus [MERS virus] is not a problem that any single affected country can keep to itself or manage all by itself."
There are no specific treatments for illnesses caused by MERS-CoV. Medical care for people infected with the MERS virus is only supportive and able to help relieve symptoms.
New research has found that a combination of existing drugs may help some patients infected with the new MERS coronavirus. However, those drugs have only been tested in monkeys so far.
Since there is no vaccine or treatment proven to be effective in humans, experts are struggling to understand MERS. MERS is considered to be a cousin of the SARS virus that erupted in Asia in 2003 and infected 8,273 people, nine percent of whom died.
The MERS-CoV virus has been shown to spread between people who are in close contact. Transmission from infected patients to healthcare personnel has also been observed.
The most recent three cases of MERS virus deaths included a 41-year-old health sector worker in Riyadh and a 79-year-old woman who came into contact with a patient stricken by the virus in the northeastern city of Hafr Al Baten. The third MERS virus victim is a man from Qatari who had been suffering from a chronic illness.
The CDC advises that people who travel to Middle Eastern countries follow the same guidelines as advised for flu season:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, and help young children do the same. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact, such as kissing, sharing cups, or sharing eating utensils, with sick people.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs.
If traveling to the Middle East, the CDC advises to be aware of the MERS virus, its symptoms, and what to do in case symptoms develop.
“If you develop a fever and symptoms of lower respiratory illness, such as cough or shortness of breath, within 14 days after traveling from countries in the Arabian Peninsula or neighboring countries, you should see your healthcare provider and mention your recent travel.”