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Tracing The Cause of The MERS Epidemic

Medically reviewed by January Velasco, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Excel Dyquiangco · Updated Nov 10, 2020

Tracing The Cause of The MERS Epidemic

Known as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, MERS was a respiratory ailment that started in Saudi Arabia in 2012. What caused MERS?

Quite similar to COVID-19, among its known symptoms included shortness of breath, fever, cough, diarrhea, and nausea and in serious cases, kidney failure and pneumonia.

There were cases, however, where people had mild symptoms such as cough and colds and some others were asymptomatic, or showed no symptoms at all. 

The symptoms of MERS typically start to appear within 5 or 6 days of exposure and last for about 2 to fourteen days.

But what caused MERS? 

What caused MERS?

Because researchers believed that this virus came from animals, they tested goats, cows, sheep, water buffalo, swine, and wild birds, and found out that the virus was not in their system.

It was only when they tested on camels that they discovered where MERS came from.

Belonging to the coronavirus family, one of the viruses that may cause the common cold, MERS has been shown to infect not only humans but different animals such as camels and bats as well, specific to animals in Saudi Arabia. 

It has been said that from camels, the virus was usually passed on to humans but that remained unclear – even until now. 

In 2015, a man from Saudi Arabia died in the Philippines.

The cause of death was believed to be MERS. His death brought about contact tracing, which was mostly aimed at identifying the nurses and doctors who took care of the man while in hospitalization. 

There were other MERS patients outside Saudi Arabia. And it was found that all of them traveled to the Middle East.

Risk Factors

According to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC), about 3 out of 10 people diagnosed with MERS succumb to the condition.

Most of the people who died had weakened immune systems, or underlying conditions such as:

  • diabetes
  • cancer
  • chronic lung disease
  • chronic heart disease
  • chronic kidney disease

In response, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a bulletin that those who had the above ailments should avoid eating camel meat, avoid eating undercooked meat, and avoid interacting with camels. 

The rest of those at risk were:

  1. People who traveled from the Arabian Peninsula and have developed symptoms such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath. They were advised to contact their health care providers. 
  2. People who were in close contacts with others who have traveled from the Arabian peninsula. Just the same, they were advised to visit their nearest doctor and health care provider for tests. 
  3. Closed contacts of a confirmed case. Those people in contact with a confirmed case were advised to go directly to a healthcare professional. 
  4. Healthcare professionals not using recommended protection and precautions. Doctors and nurses not wearing any protective gear and who had close contacts with confirmed cases were advised to isolate themselves and be looked after by other healthcare professionals as well.
  5. People with exposure to camels. Since camels were the main reason why there was a MERS COV in the first place, those who were in direct contact with these animals were advised to practice general hygiene measures such as washing of hands, and avoiding contact with sick animals. The World Health Organization even released a bulletin to advise those people visiting farms, barns or markets. 

Despite determining who was at risk, not all infected persons could be identified. Some cases were asymptomatic. It was only through testing that cases were confirmed. 

Key Takeaways

So what caused MERS? Animals, particularly camels and bats, were the ones responsible for transmitting this to humans. There is no vaccine for MERS.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

January Velasco, MD

General Practitioner

Written by Excel Dyquiangco · Updated Nov 10, 2020

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