The World Health Organization held an emergency meeting on Tuesday to discuss the seriousness of an outbreak of MERS, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, in South Korea. This grim situation has been deemed a wakeup call and requires extremely close monitoring. There has been more than 160 MERS cases reported and at least 23 deaths from the current outbreak.
Thus far most of the patients who have recently died from this disease had other health related complications when they contracted it. Over 6,700 individuals have been quarantined to prevent further perpetuation of the MERS outbreak.
MERS is often called Camel Disease and its outbreak in South Korea is believed to have begun in May of this year, 2015. A man 68 years of age is thought to have contracted it during a visit to the Middle East. Nine days had passed since he consulted professional medical help before he was confirmed to have MERS. It is said that 2,208 schools had been closed temporarily. A total of 20 of those educational institutions were universities.
Signs and Symptoms of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome
MERS is designated as a viral respiratory disease. It is caused by MERS-CoV which is a coronavirus. These types of viruses cause ailments as mild as a common cold to as serious as SARS or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. Common symptoms of this virus are:
There have been cases reported that included organ failure, the kidneys being very susceptible, and septic shock. Many individuals suffering from MERS have also been found to have Pneumonia and it has been necessary to place some of them in intensive care with mechanical ventilation support. Patients who have other health issue which decreases the immune system are most vulnerable. These include chronic illnesses such as lung disease, cancer, and diabetes.
The first reported case of MERS was documented in Saudi Arabia in 2012. There have been documented cases in numerous areas including:
Note: Only two confirmed cases have been documented in the U.S. One was on May 2 and another on May 11 of 2014. It is believed that both cases originated in Saudi Arabia.
Transmission and Carriers
Those infected with MERS do not always show symptoms because early signs are reported as non-specific. It is not completely understood how individuals contract this zoonotic virus. It is thought that humans become infected via indirect or direct contact with Middle Eastern Dromedary Camels which are infected. It is further believed that close contact is required for human to human transmission. Those who do not apply strict hygiene practices are the most susceptible.
The largest majority of transmission from human to human cases have been in health care and medical settings where staff provided care to patients which was unprotected. To date only camels have been found to be infected with MERS though other animals have been tested for the virus. Animals tested, but found innocuous include cows; goats; water buffalo; sheep; wild birds; and swine. Individuals are warned to only consume camel milk and camel meat that has been properly pasteurized. They should also wash their hands thoroughly after visiting farms and having contact with camels as well as completely avoid all sick cattle/animals.
The study of MERS is ongoing and there is currently no vaccine available. There are no antivirals to treat MERS at this time; however, individuals who suspect that they have contracted it should seek out immediate medical attention. Medical professionals treat serious cases of this virus with careful organ support to prevent organ failure.