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10 things you need to know about MERS

The Mers virus has claimed its first victim in Malaysia, a 54-year-old man who died in a Johor hospital last month. It has infected two in the US, while the Netherlands saw its first case on Tuesday. Though Singapore has yet to be hit, this does not mean we are safe. Here are the 10 things you need to know about the Mers virus. MELODY NG (melodyng@sph.com.sg) reports

THE VIRUS SO FAR

Mers, short for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, first surfaced in Saudi Arabia in 2012. It has affected 17 countries so far, including France, Malaysia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UK and the US.

SAME FAMILY AS SARS

Mers, also known as MERS-CoV, belongs to the same coronavirus family as the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) virus. Sars had caused an estimated 800 deaths globally in 2003 and 33 deaths in Singapore. Sars had mostly affected healthier, younger people, but Mers occurs mostly in people who have had underlying chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart or kidney disease.

HOW IT SPREADS

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the virus can spread through close contact with an infected individual, but has not been shown to spread through casual contact such as travelling on the same bus or airplane.

WHO'S AT RISK?

Travellers who develop symptoms within 14 days of travelling to affected countries should see their doctor and inform them about their travel history. Mers victims have been as young as two years old to as old as 94.

SYMPTOMS

Symptoms include breathing problems, fever, cough and diarrhoea, which can then lead to pneumonia and organ failure. It takes about five to 14 days for symptoms to appear in an infected individual.

DEATH TOLL

According to the World Health Organisation, 538 cases of Mers have been reported, with a total of 145 people having died from the disease.

CAMELS AND BATS

Nearly three-quarters of the camels in Saudi Arabia tested positive for Mers exposure, and there have been research suggesting that the virus passes from camels to people. The Mers virus has also been found in bats.

IS THERE A VACCINE?

There are currently no vaccines or treatment targeted for Mers. But doctors are able to treat the symptoms such as breathing difficulties and fever.

PATIENTS CAN FULLY RECOVER

The first US patient suffering from Mers has since fully recovered, and none of the individual's close contacts have shown signs of the disease.

HOW DO I PROTECT MYSELF?

Though the virus currently represents a low risk to the general public, the CDChas advised steps against respiratory illnesses. People should avoid touching their eyes, noses and mouths, wash their hands often and avoid close contact with infected patients.