On December 17th, 2014 the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a report stating that ” Between 20 November and 7 December 2014, the National IHR Focal Point for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) notified WHO of 11 additional cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) infection, including 4 deaths. ”
With these new cases, the total number of cases of MERS-CoV infections reached 938, including 343 related deaths. In all the cases where the patient passed away, death occurred less than 15 days after the appearance of the first symptoms. The symptoms of the MERS-CoV infection are very common and that is making it really difficult to identify the infection earlier.
So far, MERS-CoV infections appeared in the following countries: Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen (Middle East); France, Germany, Greece, Italy, and the United Kingdom (UK) (Europe); Tunisia and Egypt (Africa); Malaysia and the Philippines (Asia); and the United States of America (Americas).
What are the symptoms of MERS-CoV infection?
Most of the patients who have confirmed MERS-CoV infection reported that they suffered from respiratory symptoms such as cough and shortness of breath along with other symptoms not specifically related to respiratory illnesses such as loss of appetite and fever.
How is MERS-CoV infection transmitted?
Health organizations are still trying to discover the exact transmission mode of the coronavirus. However, according to the recent history, the coronavirus infection is transmitted from human to human through close contact with a person with respiratory symptoms of the virus, at a distance of one meter, and probably by air especially during episodes of cough. Contact with infected animals, which is possible in the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, is a major risk of contagion. Thus said, according to WHO, “The virus does not seem to pass easily from person to person unless there is close contact”.
Do we need to avoid consuming camel products?
Any contact with an animal that has been confirmed to have MERS-CoV infection should be avoided.
As for raw or undercooked animal products such as milk and meat, they should not be consumed not only to avoid risking a MERS-CoV infection, but also because they have been proven to cause several other diseases.
Until we learn more about this infection, it is highly recommended for people with weak immunity, diabetes, cancer or heart, kidney or lung failure to avoid consuming raw or undercooked animal products as well as any other form of contact with camels.
Who is more likely to get MERS-CoV infection?
There are not specific criteria, but according to the history of the infection (which first appeared in Saudi Arabia in 2012), people who already have other medical conditions are more likely to be infected and to have a severe, potentially deadly infection. The pre-existing illnesses include diabetes, chronic lung and heart disease, cancer, etc. In general, a person with a weak immune system is at a higher risk. So any condition that would lead to alter immunity is presumed to be an aggravating factor of coronavirus infections. This is particularly true for old men.
On a global level, travelers coming from the Middle East, people in close contact with travelers coming from the Middle East, healthcare personnel in contact with confirmed cases of MERS-CoV infection who failed to comply with the safety recommendations and people in close contact with camels are at higher risk to develop MERS-CoV infection.
Why do some people die and others not?
Again, people with weak immune systems are the ones who are more likely to have a severe case of MERS-CoV infection leading to death. This is not a proven rule, but a general observation based on statistics. How can we treat MERS-CoV infection? Currently, there is no specific treatment or vaccine to MERS-CoV infection. When an infection is confirmed, the patient is provided with palliative and supportive care according to his symptoms and clinical condition.
How are we responding to control this disease?
WHO gave the concerned government bodies specific recommendations to control the disease. They mainly state that there should be a close surveillance for any respiratory infection, even if the symptoms are common and do not seem severe. Healthcare workers are also required to apply safety precautions with every patient presenting respiratory symptoms, as it is currently impossible to identify a MERS-CoV infection.
Meanwhile, health organizations continue to work together to try to understand this disease and to determine the best treatment strategies that would help controlling it.
References: WHO-Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) – Saudi Arabia http://www.who.int/csr/don/17-december-2014-mers/en/