MERS stands for Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome. It is related to SARS, but not the same. Right now, there is little information of where it came from or whether or not there is an animal to human connection. Scientists are currently studying bats in Saudi Arabia as a possible source.
Most of the victims thus far have been in Saudi Arabia, but over the course of the last few weeks, cases have been reported in France, Germany, Jordan, Italy, Tunisia, United Kingdom United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Some of these cases have been human to human transmission, which is a rather frightening thought.
Of the 77 reported cases, more than half (40) have died. The reported cases also point to another disturbing problem. This virus can spread through a hospital very quickly. It can be spread by most of the same methods the flu is spread; direct contact, touching a contaminated surface, sneezing and coughing.
Among the things we don’t know is whether there have been unreported cases. Some may have had the virus but didn’t require medical attention. If that is the case, we could be looking at a far larger problem. Even if the patient’s case is mild, it could be passed on to someone else who might not have a mild case.
The U.S. government, the CDC and WHO are all working to discover the information we need to know in order to prevent a deadly pandemic. No cases have been reported in the U.S., but doctors have been warned to check patients who become ill and have recently been to the Middle East.
While the disease does not seem to spread as fast as the flu virus, it is still a serious threat. One person on a plane with this virus could introduce it to all of the other passengers and crew, who could then do the same to others. There is a documented case of a person who caught it, gave it to seven others who each passed it on to one or more others. This is why it’s an international concern.
The instructions to avoid this illness are the same for any other virus. Wash your hands frequently, don’t touch your face with your hands, and avoid contact with those who are ill (where possible), in the affected countries, stay away from the animals. While bats are considered the most likely connection, they might not be the only one.
This is not yet something to panic over. Like H1N1, it is important to stay up to date on the information, particularly about where the illness has traveled to. The CDC has several pages devoted to information about it, and can keep you informed.