South Korea has seen a new outbreak of a deadly virus called MERS which has led to lots of media speculation. But isn’t it time we found out what the virus is?
MERS stands for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.
Respiratory = to do with breathing.
MERS is a coronavirus. And no, it’s not caused by drinking Corona beer. Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses which include many common viruses and illnesses that we come in contact with everyday. The common cold is a coronavirus, but the MERS virus is much more deadly. Something of a super-cold!
Virus = an infection which spreads throughout the body.
People suffering with MERS will often get a temperature and display flu-like symptoms. They usually develop a cough and may have trouble breathing. MERS can also affect the kidneys and cause pneumonia. This is when it gets really dangerous. If your immune system can’t cope with these complications then MERS can lead to death. Around 3 out of every 10 cases of MERS ends in a fatality.
At the moment there is no cure for MERS. All doctors can do is offer medical care to help the body fight the virus and prevent pneumonia.
The first death from the MERS virus was in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Since the first case there have been 1139 recorded cases of MERS. Only 431 of these cases led to death.
At the moment it’s not certain how the virus is passed from person to person. It’s thought that MERS is spread through contact with infected patients. The virus may be passed on by respiratory discharge. Think cough mucus and snot. Lovely.
It is possible animals might have a part to play in passing on MERS. An investigation took place in a barn where infected camels had been kept. MERS was found in air particles in the barn, leading to fears that the virus might become airborne. Why is this bad? If the virus became airborne it could spread around the world a lot faster, and you could catch it just by breathing! Maybe time to invest in one of those fancy face masks?
There has been a recent outbreak of MERS virus in South Korea. Two people have died and several hundreds have been kept in quarantine. The media is now picking up the story; this coverage will give people a greater understanding of the risks of the virus and will help people protect themselves against it. But is this a case of too little, too late?
When new diseases spread across the world there is often a lot of scaremongering in the media. Take Ebola; despite a very low risk of Ebola travelling across the to the UK, newspapers and the internet exploded with articles and claims about the disease. Anyone with a temperature suddenly became a possible Ebola victim.
If you are not directly affected by diseases such as the MERS virus it is very easy to disengage and move onto a different topic. Now Ebola seems to be dying down the media has moved on to new exciting stories; like the MERS virus.
Does this mean we are less likely to listen when the next super disease comes along?
Health experts in both the USA and the UK say the risk of getting MERS is very low.
The first two cases recorded in the USA were both in people who had visited Saudi Arabia and it is thought they caught the virus there. However, there have been no cases of MERS virus found in their immediate family. Phew.
Simple things like washing your hands will reduce the risk of catching a virus. Most people will contract a coronavirus at some point. Most of these will only lead to flu or the common cold and are not deadly. So chill your beans and don’t panic.