Recent MERS Outbreak Causes Global Scare


Latest figures report 10 people in South Korea have died from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS, and the nation reported 122 confirmed cases and placed more than 3,800 persons in quarantine. Now China has verified a MERS case in that country. This is the largest outbreak of the disease outside the Middle East, where it originated.


MERS is a viral respiratory illness first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. It is caused by a coronavirus called “Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus” (MERS-CoV). Coronaviruses cause a variety of illnesses, from the common cold to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which caused a global epidemic in 2003.


The source of MERS is unknown, but the best guess of healthcare workers is that it came from an animal such as a camel in Qatar or a bat in Saudi Arabia.


If a doctor suspects a patient of having MERS after exhibiting symptoms such as fever and swollen glands, then the diagnosis can be confirmed by a lab. Antiviral drugs can be used to treat MERS, while medications to reduce pain and fever, drinking plenty of fluids, and rest can help relieve symptoms.


MERS spreads by human to human close contact: any person who provides care for the patient or stays in the same place as the patient is at risk.


How can you avoid getting MERS? People should wash their hands often with soap and water; use hand sanitizer; wear facemasks, especially when traveling; avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth; stay away from sick people; and clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs.


Thirty percent of people with MERS die from it. Most at risk are those patients with diabetes or heart disease. Cases range from a mild respiratory illness to an acute state with flu-like symptoms of fever, cough, shortness of breath and diarrhea. Advanced MERS can result in pneumonia and kidney failure.


WiRED International created a module on MERS in response to the initial outbreak in the Middle East. Our module for grassroots audiences is available in English and in Arabic, at no charge, for download to computer or flash drive.


For more information on MERS:


World Health Organization: "Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV)"


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)"


World Health Organization: "Summary and risk assessment of current situation in Republic of Korea and China"


World Health Organization: "Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) – Saudi Arabia"