MERS-CoV refers to a viral respiratory illness — Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) — that’s caused by a coronavirus (CoV), the same family of viruses that can cause the common cold. Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is a virus transferred to humans from infected dromedary camels.
It is a zoonotic virus, meaning it is transmitted between animals and people, and it is contractable through direct or indirect contact with infected animals.
MERS-CoV has been identified in dromedaries in several countries in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. In total, 27 countries have reported cases since 2012. About 3 or 4 out of every 10 patients reported with MERS have died.
MERS-CoV is one of three new coronaviruses that cause severe illness in humans. The other two are:
• Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV): This virus causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). It emerged in November 2002 and disappeared in 2004.
• Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2): This virus causes COVID-19. It emerged in China in December 2019, and health authorities declared a global pandemic on March 11, 2020.
Since it was first identified in 2012, MERS-CoV has continued to cause sporadic, localized outbreaks.
The origins of the virus are not fully understood but according to the analysis of different virus genomes it is believed that it may have originated in bats and later transmitted to camels at some point in the distant past.
MERS-CoV infections range from showing no symptoms (asymptomatic) or mild respiratory symptoms to severe acute respiratory disease and death.
The symptoms of MERS start to appear about 5 or 6 days after a person is exposed, but can range from 2 to 14 days.
A typical presentation of MERS-CoV disease includes –
• shortness of breath.
• Pneumonia is a common finding, but not always present. •Gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhoea, have also been reported.
• Severe illness can cause respiratory failure that requires mechanical ventilation and support in an intensive care unit.
Approximately 35% of patients with MERS-CoV have died, but this may be an overestimate of the true mortality rate.
Human-to-human transmission is possible, but only a few such transmissions have been found among family members living in the same household.
MERS can affect anyone. MERS patients have ranged in age from younger than 1 to 99 years old.
In health care settings, however, human-to-human transmission appears to be more frequent.
Risk Factors –
The following groups of people are more susceptible to MERS-CoV infection and complications:
• older adults
• people with health conditions such as diabetes, chronic lung disease, kidney disease, or cancer
• people with weakened immune systems, such as those receiving chemotherapy or immunosuppressant medication
Most of those who have died from MERS had preexisting, chronic medical conditions.
Most state laboratories are approved to test for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) using CDC’s (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) rRT-PCR assay.
No vaccine or specific treatment is currently available, although several MERS-CoV specific vaccines and treatments are in development. Treatment is supportive and based on the patient’s clinical condition.
Precautionary Measures –
As a general precaution, anyone visiting farms, markets, barns, or other places where dromedary camels and other animals are present should practice general hygiene measures, including regular hand washing before and after touching animals and avoiding contact with sick animals.
Animal products that are processed appropriately through cooking or pasteurization are safe for consumption but should also be handled with care to avoid cross contamination with uncooked foods.
Camel meat and camel milk are nutritious products that can continue to be consumed after pasteurization, cooking or other heat treatments.
MERS-CoV is contagious, but the virus does not appear to pass between humans without close contact.
To reduce the risk of MERS-CoV transmission, health authorities recommend:
• frequently washing the hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds at a time
• avoiding undercooked meats and any food prepared in conditions that may not be hygienic
• washing fruits and vegetables thoroughly
• reporting any suspected cases to local health authorities
• minimizing close contact with anyone who develops an acute respiratory illness with fever
• wearing a medical mask
• sneezing into a sleeve, flexed elbow, or a tissue, then immediately disposing of it
• If you’ve traveled to the Arabian Peninsula or a neighboring country and you develop a fever and symptoms of MERS-CoV within 14 days of returning, see your doctor and discuss your recent travel.
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