Six things to know about MERS

For those who have not heard about MERS, here are the basic facts about the virus.

Samantha Ng
Samantha Ng

Published: 9 June 2015, 12:00 AM

Here are six key things you must know about the recent MERS coronavirus

1. What is MERS?

MERS stands for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. Being a coronavirus, it is similar to the common cold, but a lot more severe. It is also known as the brother virus of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) that broke in 2003, infecting over 8000 people and having a death toll of 773.

MERS is not as severe as SARS as, for now, it does not spread as easily between people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), MERS affects one’s respiratory system and about four out of every 10 reported cases have died.

2. Symptoms

CDC states that the symptoms of MERS include having the fever, cough and shortness of breath. Some of those infected also have symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. The more severe cases will then get pneumonia and kidney failure.


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3. How it spreads

According to CDC, MERS can be spread to those who have had close contact with people who are infected. It is contagious but not as contagious as SARS. It is theorised that it is contracted through contact with another person’s respiratory secretions, so very close contact is required to be infected.

There is also speculation that camels are also part of the MERS chain. In February scientists found that nearly three quarters of camels in Saudi Arabia tested positive for MERS exposure. However the theory that humans can be infected through an animal or the environment is still under investigation.


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4. When and where it started

The first confirmed case of MERS was reported in Saudi Arabia back in 2012. There had been a couple of international cases, but they were confined to travelers and only infected one or two others.

However, it recently reached South Korea when a 68-year-old South Korean man contracted it during his travels to four Middle Eastern countries. He did not exhibit any symptoms during his flight but started getting sick a week after his return.

5. The current damage

As of March 10, there have been a total of 1084 reported cases and 439 reported deaths. Most of the cases are in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with a few stray cases hitting other countries. However as of June 5 there are an additional 41 reported cases of MERS in South Korea and four people have passed away.

South Korea’s education ministry has shut down more than 900 schools to prevent the spread of the disease. There are also more than 1600 people in quarantine.


Safety suits worn by those who will come into contact with those with MERS.
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China has also reported its first MERS case. It spread when a South Korean man who was tested positive for MERS broke his voluntary house quarantine and traveled to Mainland China.

6. Prevention

As of now there is no vaccine or cure for MERS, but the CDC advises everyone to practice everyday hygiene practices such as: hand washing, covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing, and avoiding personal contact with sick people.

The Ministry of Health and Singapore Airlines will also be taking preventive measures to screen and isolate individuals suffering from MERS.


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TL;DR? Here is a summary of what MERS is.
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