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MERS: All You Need To Know

Medically reviewed by Jobelle Ann Dela Cruz Bigalbal, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Excel Dyquiangco · Updated Sep 28, 2021

MERS: All You Need To Know


What is MERS?

Before COVID-19, there were several similar coronaviruses that threatened the world. One of them was MERS-CoV, which stands for Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, or simply MERS, and it originated in Saudi Arabia in 2012. According to the World Health Organization, a total of 1,465 deaths were reported from then until now. 

MERS is a zoonotic virus, which means that it can be transmitted from animals to people. It is believed that MERS  was passed from camels to humans.

The exact origin, meanwhile, is not clear, although there have been studies that say that this virus originated from bats and was transmitted to camels. 

Here is a rundown of what you need to know about MERS virus. 

What is MERS-COV?

A coronavirus that causes severe acute respiratory infection in humans, MERS originally came from the Arabian peninsula and surrounding areas. There are both similarities and differences between MERS and COVID-19, but both can lead us to valuable learnings.

In late 2019, scientists discovered another coronavirus – the novel coronavirus or COVID-19 – which was related to the MERS and the SARS virus. It was found out that COVID-19, like MERS, originated from infected animals and causes respiratory problems in humans.  In just one month, COVID-19 spread to six different countries, and soon afterwards spread to 204 countries and territories around the world by the beginning of April, 2020. 

Signs and Symptoms

Much like today’s COVID-19 pandemic, those infected with MERS were sometimes asymptomatic (displaying no symptoms) while others had:

  • fever
  • chills
  • runny nose
  • fatigue
  • shortness of breath
  • cough

Also reported were gastrointestinal problems, including:

  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • abdominal pain

But again, these symptoms were not always present.

Those who were susceptible to the virus included those with weakened immune systems, infants and young children, and those who were 65 years old and above.

Also affected were those with pre-existing conditions such as:

  • asthma
  • cancer
  • diabetes
  • chronic lung disease
  • renal disease
  • During the time of MERS, approximately 35% of deaths were reported, but this was just an estimate as there were undoubtedly those who suffered from mild symptoms and didn’t report their case.

    According to the World Health Organization, those who were counted in the data were laboratory-confirmed cases. 

    Causes and Risk Factors

    Since 2012, almost 27 countries have been infected with MERS. Among these countries are the United States, the Philippines, China, Germany, Thailand, Greece, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Algeria, Kuwait, Iran, Lebanon, Yemen, France, Oman, Jordan, Bahrain, Austria, Italy, South Korea, and Malaysia.   

    During this time, 80% of infections were reported by Saudi Arabia, and were believed to have come from camels. For the remaining countries, those infected came from Saudi Arabia and traveled elsewhere. 

    In several countries, transmissions were also reported, including infection from health care providers to patients and vice versa. Again similar to COVID-19, there is no way that MERS-CoV can be detected early on, and it is only through tests that this was discovered. 

    Is MERS contagious?

    MERS is infectious and contagious, and can be contracted through close contract with an infected person. The contagious period, however, is still not known.

    Treatment and Prevention

    Like COVID-19, there is no specific treatment available  for MERS-CoV. 

    Medical management is supportive and depends on the severity of illness. 

    No vaccines have been developed, but treatments are still in development based on the patient’s clinical conditions.

    Similar to precautions to COVID-19, there are also precautions to prevent the spread of MERS. These include:

    • Frequent washing of hands with soap and water. Everyone was advised to wash hands as much as possible, for 20 seconds, after reaching any place of destination, and before and after every meal. Alcohol-based sanitizer can be used if soap is not available.
    • Staying away from farm animals. It was advised not to visit farm animals, especially if there were camels in the area. 
    • Avoid consumption of raw or uncooked animal products, including meat and meal, which had a high risk of infection from different organisms that caused illnesses in humans. Those products that were cooked appropriately or properly, however, were good for consumption.
    • Wearing disposable surgical face mask properly and eye protection in public places.
    • Leading a healthy lifestyle. Boost your immune system by having healthy habits such as getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, drinking enough water, having a balanced diet, avoiding stress, and avoiding smoking and drinking too much alcohol were encouraged. 

    There were reports that the research for SARS, a respiratory illness that spread in the early 2000s, opened a study to develop vaccines and therapies against the MERS virus. As of now, this is still being developed. 

    With all of these viruses such as COVID-19, SARS and MERS, there is still a possibility that more viruses will threaten our health and safety. It is only through being aware, and taking precautions that ordinary people can beat this. For treatment, always follow the directions of health professionals and experts. 

    So take care and always be healthy, especially during this pandemic


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

    Medically reviewed by

    Jobelle Ann Dela Cruz Bigalbal, MD

    General Practitioner

    Written by Excel Dyquiangco · Updated Sep 28, 2021

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