MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) (cont.)

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What causes MERS? How is MERS transmitted?

MERS is caused by a virus referred to as "MERS-CoV" from the coronavirus genus; MERS-CoV means Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus. The genus coronavirus includes viruses that infect animals, cause the common cold in humans, and caused the SARS outbreak in China in 2003. However, the MERS-CoV virus is different than other coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV, and had never been identified before 2012. Although scientists are not certain, it has been suggested that the MERS virus originated in wild bats and then spread to humans through an unknown route.

MERS-CoV is spread from person to person through respiratory droplet secretions. MERS has often infected people caring for a sick (MERS-CoV-infected) individual.

What are risk factors for MERS-CoV infection?

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MERS-CoV can infect a person regardless of his/her health status or age group. Recent travelers returning from the Middle East who develop severe acute respiratory infection (SARI) should be tested for MERS-CoV. Elderly people and those with underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, or liver disease are at risk of severe infection. A major risk factor is simply a close association with any person infected with MERS-CoV since the virus can be spread through respiratory droplets.

What are MERS symptoms and signs?

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Initially, the illness resembles influenza with fever and a mild cough. The breathing disorder often progresses to severe shortness of breath (dyspnea) and inability to maintain oxygenation (hypoxia). Progression may be rapid or it may take several days. Severely affected people develop a potentially fatal form of respiratory failure, known as adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARD or ARDS). In addition to the attacking the alveoli in the lungs, the virus also infects other organs in the body, causing kidney failure, inflammation of the heart sac (pericarditis), or severe systemic bleeding from disruption of the clotting system (disseminated intravascular coagulation). People with compromised immune systems such as severe rheumatoid arthritis or organ transplantation may not experience respiratory symptoms but can have fever or diarrhea.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/10/2013

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