The MERS has killed over 100 persons so far and the risk of it spreading is very real. However there are many questions which are unanswered about its mode of transmission and origin. Health authorities in Asia are already poring over the lessons learnt 11 years ago with SARS or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. SARS killed more than 300 persons and genetically similar to the MERS, which is not fast and virulent as SARS.
MERS is a type of coronavirus which infects animals and humans. Symptoms include high fever, coughing, and in acute cases pneumonia and kidney failure. It was first reported in 2012 in Saudi Arabia and has till date killed 102 persons among the 339 confirmed cases of the disease. The disease has also been reported in other parts of the Middle East like Egypt which has reported a few cases and there are reports of MERS in Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia.
According to Malik Peiris, the director of the center for influenza research at Hong Kong University, “When SARS started, in the November-December period of 2002, what we were seeing was also clusters of cases, clusters of human patients with severe pneumonia, [and] at that time nobody knew what it was,”
Scientists have since confirmed that the SARS pandemic was caused by a virus which originated in Chinese Bats and then infected humans.
The Saudi Arabia’s Health Minister was fired after erroneously stating that the April spurt in the MERS cases was seasonal and no extra precautionary measures are necessary. MERS is in many aspects much akin to SARS and there is a high percentage of infection among the medical and health care personal. The MERS virus has been detected in a number of animals which includes Bats and Camels. Camels are believed to be the primary source of infection but there are a number of unanswered question about how the virus was transmitted to humans.