What is the deadly MERS virus and why is everyone talking about it?

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?


What is the MERS virus?

MERS stands for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

Respiratory = to do with breathing.

mers virus. coronavirus, man covered in beer cans drinking beer gif

No you can’t catch a coronavirus from drinking Corona…please drink responsibly!

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.


Where does it come from?

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.

mers virus, respiratory discharge, monsters inc boo sneezes on mike

Watch out for that respiratory discharge!

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 airborneWhy 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?


Remind me – why are we talking about MERS?

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?


Am I at risk of catching MERS virus in the UK?

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.


What’s the chat?

Twitter reaction to the MERS virus outbreak in South Korea including notifications from the World Health Organisation and from individuals effected by the quarantines

Reaction to the MERS virus outbreak in South Korea via Twitter


What we learned; be careful if travelling to South Korea or Saudi Arabia.

Questions; does media coverage of MERS virus educate people in the West to the risks, or does it just add to paranoia and panic? Do we actually take stuff like Ebola and MERS seriously or does it seem distant and far-away?



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The difference between sounding cool and being cool: Hacking explained.

What is a computer hacker?

Computer Hackers look for gaps and weaknesses in computer code (that’s the stuff which makes your laptop work) and break in. They can do this to cause harm, steal personal details like your banking PIN number or just simply to have fun. Some hackers work to improve computer security by exposing the flaws in the technology. Yes, you heard that right.

It’s tough being a Millennial. We were born just on the cusp of the computer revolution. Nowadays, kids in primary schools are being taught to code and hacking groups like Anonymous and the South Korea Hacker gangs are hitting the headlines.

In recent years a whole hacking culture has evolved. So, if you technically want to be a hacker, TECHNICALLY, what would that entail?

If it seems complex, well that’s because it is.

How to become a computer hacker in three not so easy steps:

200-11) Choose a TYPE of hacking. Yes there are different kinds.

Contrary to popular belief, hackers aren’t just criminals or geeks. There are many different types of hackers. There are “White Hats”, “Black Hats” and even “Grey Hats”. Hackers love hats.

Not really. The colour of hat just shows why you are hacking. For example White Hats hack to find weaknesses in order to improve them. Black Hats generally do it to cause trouble. And Grey Hats sit in the middle. They will look for websites or companies to hack for fun, but will sometimes offer to fix the problem. For a fee of course. Hackers gotta eat just like the rest of us.

You’ll start out as a “Noob” or newbie, and then work your way up. Work hard and you could become an Elite Hacker.

Or if that seems like a massive effort you could just become a “Script Kiddie”. They are hackers who use code written by other hackers. Takes all sorts I suppose.


2002) Choose a method of hacking

Now you’ve chosen the type of hacker you want to be, you need to find a way to access other people’s computers.

The most common hack is a Virus. If this gets into your computer it basically tries to screw everything. It attaches itself to a programme like Word or Excel. Every time you run that programme the virus will reproduce and spread through the computer. Viruses slow down the computer and eventually cause it to crash.

Another type is a “Trojan”. Just like a Trojan Horse, this pretends to be doing something else whilst accessing your data. Trojans are often hidden in downloads like games or music. When you try to play the game, the Trojan deletes everything on your computer.

If you want to find passwords you might choose to use a “Logger”. Hint: it’s nothing to do with lumberjacks. Loggers record what you type. Get it into someone’s computer and when they enter a password, you get a record of what they write.

The most common way of trying to get viruses and other programmes onto another computer is through email. So when you receive another email saying you’re owed $220,000 from “your good friend” it’s probably a good idea not to open it.

There are many other ways to hack into computers. “Brute Force” attacks go through password combinations and “Worms” can spread to different computers using shared connections like Wi-Fi.


200-23) Learn from the best and maybe try to stay away from the criminal hacking activity?

Hacker culture is massive. So if you want to be the best, you gotta learn from the best. If you don’t fancy trawling seedy internet chatrooms you can go on legal hacking courses. Big companies allow hackers to take part in a “penetration test”. Sounds kind of dirty but it just means they let you hack them to test their security.


Why are we talking about this?

We recently learnt about a hacking “nation state”. These are groups of hackers who work together to achieve the same goal. A group called “The Guardians of Peace” decided they had beef with film company Sony. You would have heard of this but why? Sony was about to release a film which was about two Americans killing the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

We don’t know why Guardians of Peace took a dislike to this. But whatever the reason they hacked Sony and released some controversial emails from Sony bosses. Some of whom have had to quit.

One man’s freedom of speech is another’s shame. 200-3

The suspicion fell on North Korea, but it’s not been proved they were involved. However a man who escaped from North Korea, yes we said escaped, has claimed they have an army of hackers waiting to do serious damage to anyone who crosses them. Should we believe it? Who knows. 

Guardians of Peace might see themselves as “hacktivists”. These are computer hackers who infiltrate computers or systems for a social or political reason.


What we learned today: Hacking appears to only be associated with criminal activity, we should broaden our horizons and if you’re curious dive in and save the online world!

Is hacking basically online mugging?  Answers below please.

HIV and The £30 Test: Explained


We live by the motto “better to be safe than sorry” but will the release of a HIV Self Test Kit help lower the number of people who are unaware they are infected, or just increase paranoia throughout the country? Scenes of Reason decodes HIV and asks whether people should have to pay to get checked…


The Story

For the first time, people will be able to purchase a HIV self test kit to use at home. It’s the first time you’ll be able to buy testing kits which have been legally certified for home use. Unlike other HIV tests they don’t need to be sent off to a lab to get results.

The tests will give a result in 15 minutes, although anybody testing positive must go to their doctor to be diagnosed again. It is supposed to be 99.7% accurate.


What is HIV?

Human Immunodeficiency Virus attacks the body’s immune system, which is the system in your body which protects you from disease and illness. HIV is transmitted through blood and other bodily fluids. It can be caught by having sex without a condom, or by sharing infected needles. So, when it comes to sharing needles – just, no.

There is no cure to HIV but treatment exists enabling most people with the virus to live for a long time and remain healthy. However, it is extremely important to diagnose the virus sooner rather than later. HIV can lead to AIDS which stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. At this stage the body cannot fight off infections. Sufferers are left extremely weak and in danger of death from illnesses such as pneumonia, tuberculosis and some cancers among others.


Use the HIV Self Test Kit to check your status

It’s important to get diagnosed as soon as possible – a HIV self test kit will hopefully help this


Time to de-bunk some myths about HIV/AIDS:

HIV does NOT just affect gay men. Anyone can catch HIV – male or female, young or old, gay, straight or bi-sexual. AIDS is a problem ALL across the world – not just Africa. Although AIDS is undoubtedly a problem in Africa, it is a worldwide issue.

You don’t need to be sexually promiscuous to contract HIV. Apart from unprotected sex there are other ways the virus can be transmitted – i.e. from contaminated needles, and in some cases from mother to child (however the good news is that with proper treatment you can significantly reduce the risk of this occurring). Now we’ve got that cleared up…



What are the Symptoms?

When infected by HIV most people experience flu-like symptoms for 2-6 weeks, after which most people experience no further symptoms for years. Most commonly people will complain of a sore throat, fever, a rash on the body and sometimes tiredness and swollen glands. Around 26,000 people are estimated to have the virus and be unaware of it, leading to the spread of the disease.

More information on HIV/ AIDS


HIV Self Test Kit – What do I have to do?

HIV self test kit uses blood to test for anti bodies

Blood is taken to test for anti-bodies, which is how you test for HIV. With the HIV self test kit you will be able to get results withing 15 minutes

The HIV Self Test Kit is the product of BioSURE UK, a company which specialises in testing solutions. If you get infected with HIV your body will try to fight it by producing anti-bodies (special types of protein made by white blood cells to kill off invading viruses). HIV tests search for these anti-bodies in your blood. If it finds traces of these anti-bodies two purple lines appear, which indicates the user is HIV positive.

The HIV self test kit costs £29.95 and can be purchased from the BioSURE website and via the NHS.



HIV Self Test Kit – The Small Print

Anything which assists diagnosis and lowers the risk of death is obviously a good thing. Although the accuracy is high, it is not 100% and the HIV self test kit may not pick up infections that have happened recently within last three months. BioSURE have also acknowledged this:

“the BioSURE HIV self-test may not detect recent HIV infection as it can take up to three months for the level of antibodies to become detectable,” – Brigette Bard, the founder of BioSure

Therefore if you think you have or are at risk of catching HIV you should go to your doctor and get checked as soon as possible. And if you use the HIV Self Test Kit and are confirmed positive – you must also go to your doctor to be re-tested. HIV charities have supported the launch of the product but have also re-enforced the need to improve access to support for those who have been diagnosed. HIV testing is provided by the National Health Service (NHS) free of charge to anyone. Some clinics also get your results back to you on the same day. Many major news outlets failed to mention this in their reports.


A HIV self test kit checks for HIV in the blood

The Debate

The home kit will hopefully increase the number of people getting checked out, and therefore lower the number of people dying from HIV related illnesses. All good then, unless you test positive and you have to go to the doctors anyway.

However –  “Flu-like Symptoms” is a pretty broad description – are we going to see a load of “man-flu” sufferers panicking and running out to buy the kit? Does more need to be done to educate people about the virus?

And how do you feel about having to pay £30, when the NHS provides a free service? Is it more important that the NHS should receive enough funding to continue and improve its service?


All valid questions – but what do you think? Should people have to pay to get a HIV Self Test Kit? Let us know what you think.