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Jul 6, 2015
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Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is a viral respiratory illness that was first found in a 60-year-old Saudi Arabian man in 2012. Currently incurable, the deadly flu-like disease has been reported in 26 countries—the majority of which belong to the Arabian Peninsula (Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait). As of June 2015, 1,338 cases and 475 deaths have been documented since 2012.

Image via Eden.lsu.edu

Outside the Middle East, South Korea has seen the largest MERS epidemic, with 185 infected individuals documented, 33 of whom have died. The outbreak started in May 20, 2015 when a 68-year-old man returned to South Korea from the Middle East.

There is no such outbreak in our country yet, but given the disease's ability to spread like wildfire, today's reported case of a MERS infection in the Philippines is enough to get our attention. Rappler, in an article published earlier today, reports that a 36-year-old foreigner has tested positive for MERS. The patient, who was reported to have made stops in Saudi Arabia and Dubai before going to the Philippines, is currently quarantined at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Muntinlupa.

The patient is the second confirmed case of MERS in the country after a Filipina nurse returning from Saudi Arabia tested positive last February. Luckily, she was able to recover while the currently isolated foreigner is said to be responding well to treatment.

The World Health Organization, though, warns that "all outbreaks are unpredictable" especially for a comparatively new disease whose full nature isn't yet understood.

Here, we'll share what we do know about it, so you and your bros and your family and your girlfriend will know how to act around this global threat.


1)   ITS LIKE THE COMMON COLDS, BUT DEADLIER

Like the common colds, MERS is caused by a coronavirus. That's why the symptoms for MERS may be similar to a particularly tough bout with colds or influenza, including:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting
  • Chills, body aches, sore throat, headache, and a runny nose

In the event of a successful transmission, symptoms may appear from anywhere within two to 14 days. In severe cases, the disease can lead to pneumonia which may require organ support.


2)   MIDDLE EASTERN COMPROMISES

You're also at risk if you've traveled to Bahrain, Iraq, Iran, Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, or Yemen—or have been in close contact with someone who's been to these places. If you’ve travelled to the Middle East recently, monitor yourself for 14 days for MERS symptoms.

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3)   K-STOP

South Korea currently has the biggest MERS epidemic outside the Arabian Peninsula, which has reported 185 infections since May 2015. If you’ve travelled to South Korea and visited a South Korean medical facility recently, monitor yourself for 14 days for MERS symptoms.

Currently, these are the countries with reported MERS cases
Image via World Health Organization


4)   CAMEL FEVER

MERS infections have also been reported in camels, the suspected origin of the disease. Camels carry the MERS-coronavirus (MERS-CoV), and experts suspect that it can transmit the disease to humans through close contact, through their milk or consumption of raw or undercooked camel meat.


5)   KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT

As is the case for most viruses, coughing and sneezing is a favored mode of transportation for the MERS-CoV. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze to abate the spread of MERS-CoV or any other viral infection.


6)   KEEP YOUR HANDS CLEAN

The healthcare industry's ultimate go-to tip applies to MERS-CoV, adding to the list of potentially harmful hand-to-mouth infections. If soap and water aren't available, alcohol-based sanitizers are an effective substitute. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth as much as you can.


7)   NO CURE AVAILABLE

There is no known vaccine or drug that targets the MERS-CoV. Currently, treatment procedures involve the management of the severity of symptoms until the virus dies down by itself.


8)   NOPE, IT’S PROBABLY NOT THE HARBINGER OF THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE

America's Center For Disease Control And Prevention notes that MERS-CoV is not that easy to transmit. One study tracked 26 MERS patients and found out that these patients transmitted the virus to only four percent of their household contacts. Another research found out that, outside the hospital, transmission is very slow: For every person that catches the disease, less than one will be infected by that person.


9)   LENGTH OF EXPOSURE TO THE VIRUS MATTERS

The biggest part of the population who's at risk for infection are those caring for MERS patients in the hospital. Experts say that the hospital is the origin of many cases because of the prolonged exposure of individuals in the facility. Poorly ventilated and poorly spaced out hospital rooms can lead to a concentration of the virus, which in turns increases its infection potency.


10)   DEADLIER TO THOSE WHO HAVE CHRONIC DISEASES

Of the 1,338 cases documented since 2012, 475 resulted in death—a fatality rate of 37 percent. While everyone can be infected, people with diabetes, chronic lung, heart or kidney diseases or those with compromised immune systems are more susceptible to the more severe MERS cases. If you've been generally healthy, MERS is less likely to be fatal.

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