Expert Answers Questions About MERS

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Submitted by the Baylor College of Medicine…..please share your thoughts below…..

newsAs concern increases about Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, in the Middle East and in Asia, Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, answers questions on what we need to know about this emerging infectious disease.

What is MERS?

Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome is a serious lower respiratory infection caused by the MERS coronavirus, an emerging viral pathogen initially acquired from camels, but now with limited human to human transmission.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms include fever, cough and respiratory symptoms that could lead to respiratory failure and other organ system breakdown. The infection produces a disease similar to that caused by SARS (severe acute respiratory transmission) that caused a severe and highly lethal outbreak in South China in 2002-2003.

How is it spread?

The mode of spread is still not well established but generally involves close contact, especially in healthcare settings. ‎For SARS, a related coronavirus, sneezing and cough seems to facilitate transmission.

Who is at risk? Any groups more at risk?

The mortality of MERS coronavirus infection is estimated between 30 to 40 percent, with those at greatest risk of dying being the elderly and those with underlying cardiopulmonary disease or diabetes. Some data from previous SARS outbreaks indicate that 13 percent of cases may be asymptomatic and possibly this is also true for MERS.

Is there a treatment? Is there a vaccine?

There is no proven antiviral treatment for MERS, although several prototype vaccines are in different stages of development. At Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital, we have developed a new SARS vaccine soon to undergo manufacture, with a prototype MERS vaccine also beginning. The NIAID NIH is supporting development of our SARS vaccine.

Should we be concerned?

In terms of concern, the MERS epidemic in South Korea looks as though it will be contained soon with all new cases appearing among the estimated 3,000 people in quarantine. However, in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere on the Arabian Peninsula, new cases continue to appear. Individuals contemplating travel to the Arabian Peninsula should consult their physician if they are elderly or have underlying chronic disease conditions.