PROF DR AKRAM MUNEER - The coronaviruses are able to cause many diseases in humans, animals and poultry. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is caused by a crown-shaped virus (MERS-CoV) which also belongs to family “coronaviridae” an RNA group of viruses. Coronaviruses have tropism for the epithelial cells of the respiratory system or the gastro-intestinal tract of the host. These viruses in the humans are mainly limited to the upper respiratory tract. The incubation period of the coronaviral infection is usually 2-5 days.

MERS is a respiratory disease that was initially diagnosed in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2012. Most of the persons, who have been diagnosed as suffering with MERS-CoV, have indicated signs of severe acute respiratory illness; as those patients suffered from fever, cough, and shortness of breath. This disease is quite fatal as about 3QO/~ of the infected patients died after exhibiting above signs of illness. Presently cases of MERS infection continue to be reported from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.

In addition to its confirmation in Saudi Arabia, MERS has also been reported from Yemen, Oman, United Arab Emirates and Jordan.

The MERS virus is transmitted from the ailing persons to those in the close contact; such as those who look after or reside with the infected clinically-sick person.

On May 2, 2014, the first US case of MERS was confirmed in a traveler from Saudi Arabia to the US. The traveler is considered to be fully recovered and has been released from the hospital. Public health officials have contacted healthcare workers, family members, and travelers who had close contact with the patient. At this time, none of these contacts has had evidence of being infected with MERS-CoV. On May 11, 2014, another case of MERS in US was confirmed in traveler who also came to the US from Saudi Arabia. The US public health authorities continue to investigate and respond to the changing situation to prevent the spread of MERS-C0V in the country. The situation regarding MERS is being closely monitored and risk analysis work is also going on. The potential of the MERS-CoV to spread further and cause more cases globally and in the US is being cautiously studied.

 Till to-date Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Oman, Jordan, Kuwait and Yemen have reported on the laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS. Many countries like UK, France, Tunisia, Italy, Malaysia, Greece, Turkey, Egypt have reported on the travel to the above countries associated cases of the syndrome.

MERS can be easily diagnosed by the Research medical diagnostic laboratories using tests like ELISA, PCR and haemagglutination tests.

 Since MERS is a viral disease, there is no treatment for this ailment. There is also no preventive vaccination for humans. The control strategies for the MERS include isolation of patients with the aim to stop infectious virus spread, travel advisory for the suspected population, attention to the personal hygiene, reporting of any respiratory illness immediately to the medical health authorities.

The government is required to arrange awareness meetings/seminars for the intended travelers to MERS infected countries.