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What is MERS?
Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is a viral respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus (CoV). Public health officials often refer to the virus as MERS-CoV.

May 19, 2014

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WHAT IS MERS?
Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is a viral respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus (CoV).  Public health officials often refer to the virus as MERS-CoV.  It was first reported in Saudi Arabia in September 2012.  It is different from any other coronavirus previously found in people. We don’t know where the virus came from or exactly how it spreads. However, it likely came from an animal source. Between 2012 and May 8, 2014, the illness was reported in more than a dozen countries in the Arabian Peninsula, Europe, Malaysia and the US.  Over the same period, the World Health organization was informed of 496 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS-CoV infection and 93 deaths1.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Most people infected with MERS-CoV develop severe acute respiratory illness with symptoms of fever (greater than 100.4°F (38.0°C). cough, and shortness of breath. Public health officials report a 30% fatality rate.  Some people were reported as having a mild respiratory illness2.

HOW IS IT TRANSMITTED?
There is very little information on disease transmission, but MERS-CoV has been shown to spread between people who are in close contact.  Transmission from infected patients to healthcare personnel has been observed. Multiple clusters of cases have occurred in which human-to-human transmission is evident. These clusters have been observed in health-care facilities, among family members and between co-workers1.

The mechanism by which transmission occurred in all of these cases, whether respiratory (e.g. coughing, sneezing) or direct physical contact with the patient or contamination of the environment by the patient, is unknown2.  Droplet precautions and contact precautions should be observed when people cough or sneeze.  Respiratory droplets can be propelled up to a distance of three feet.  Virus droplets cause illness when they contaminate mucous membranes in the mouth, nose or eyes.

HOW IS IT CONTROLLED?
Since MERS is thought to primarily spread via close personal contact, attention to personal hygiene is key, including proper handwashing, use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers, covering coughs and sneezes and avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth. Standard infection control procedures and the use of personal protective equipment and other appropriate infection prevention and control measures related to the scope of the illness should be followed2.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER INFORMATION 

1)  http://www.who.int/csr/disease/coronavirus_infections/en

2) http://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/MERS/faq.html

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