Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS is a viral illness that causes coughing, fever and sometimes terminal pneumonia. The virus enters through the respiratory system and is similar to a strain of corona virus found in bats. It belongs to the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) family which was responsible for 800 deaths in China in 2002. The first incidence of MERS was reported in September 2012 in Saudi Arabia. But since mid-March 2014 till date, 536 confirmed cases of MERS infection have been reported by the World Health Organization, mainly from Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries. The virus approximately kills 30 percent of those who are infected. It is fast spreading to Europe, Asia and the United States.
There are multiple problems with these viruses. Vaccinations and medicines derive after years of research, planning and carefully understanding a particular pathogen so as to contain the virus. Healthcare professionals are often on the receiving end, not knowing how to deal with unknown ailments, their progression and containment. The world faced a similar situation 10 years ago when a farmer died from the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) near Hong Kong. What followed were 775 deaths in 37 different countries with more than 8000 affected people. The worrying fact was that almost one out of every ten people affected died and despite the fact that the disease vanished after 2003, it is still believed to be prowling in animals.
As of now, the WHO and CDC haven’t issued any warnings for any nation regarding MERS. Thankfully, the virus hasn’t entered India yet, but experts have warned that it remains among the countries that face a high risk of importing the deadly MERS. Simple medical checkups at airports may assist such patients and need to be secluded if essential. Individuals employed in the aviation industry are susceptible to such viral infections and precautions like maintaining proper hygiene is a good way to stop the virus from spreading. People with breathing problems must get a medical checkup prior to boarding the flight.
Precautionary Measure People Must Take
- Wash your hands frequently using antiseptic soap and water and help young ones follow the same. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable.
- Cover your nose and mouth while sneezing. Use a napkin and throw it after in the trash.
- Avoid touching your skin, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid sharing cups, utensils, or kissing. It greatly increases the risk of getting infected.
- Regularly clean commonly touched surfaces like toys and doorknobs.
So far research has shown that Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) develops very slowly in humans and not easily transmissible from person to person different from the case of animals. It has a long incubation period which makes public health interventions efficient.
To be on the safe side, if you develop any respiratory issue like cough or cold, it’s better to visit your consultant physician.