MERS: understanding the mysterious virus | News | DW | 15.06.2015
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MERS: understanding the mysterious virus

The outbreak of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus (MERS) in South Korea has left 16 dead and infected dozens more.

South Korea is witnessing the largest MERS virus outbreak since it was first identified in 2012.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), MERS is a zoonotic virus, or what health experts describe as a virus transmitted from animals to humans.

MERS Virus

MERS is a coronavirus, the same family as SARS, which killed more than 750 in Asia between 2002 and 2003

Health experts have debated whether the virus originated in camels or bats, although there are still no clear indications how it jumped from the source animal to humans. Investigations are ongoing, according to the WHO.

The virus was first observed in Saudi Arabia in 2012, where an outbreak left more than 400 people dead and 1,000 infected, according to the Saudi health ministry.

While the virus is most commonly found in the Arabian Peninsula, cases have also been reported in Europe, Asia, and North America. However, the largest outbreak outside of Saudi Arabia began in May 2015 in South Korea.

Contracting the virus

While the virus is thought to have originally transferred to humans via animals, human-to-human contact has been the largest contributor to its dissemination.

However, the majority of people who come into contact with an infected person rarely contract the virus, according to the US Center for Disease Control (CDC).

Approximately 36 percent of MERS cases globally have resulted in death. In South Korea, the figure is significantly lower, resulting in a 10 percent fatality rate of those infected.

While efforts are ongoing to curb the spread of the disease in South Korea, the number of reported cases has dropped following a peak at the beginning of June.

According to a DW interview with virologist Christian Drosten, the virus poses "no immediate danger for Europe."

Who's at risk?

At-risk people include those traveling to the Arabian Peninsula, people who come into contact with camels, and those who have frequented a South Korean healthcare facility, according to the CDC.

While MERS can trigger symptoms such as coughing, fever, and pneumonia, there have been recorded cases in which people were asymptomatic, or showing no visible signs of the virus.

Südkorea MERS

Those with weak immune systems are most at-risk of contracting the virus

In South Korea, the virus has clustered around healthcare facilities where transmission is highest.

The last reported case of MERS in Germany was in February 2015, prior to the South Korean outbreak. The 65-year-old male German citizen contracted the virus while visiting Abu Dhabi and was subsequently diagnosed and treated upon his return.

All MERS cases reported globally have originated from travel to the Arabian Peninsula.

No treatment

According to the WHO, there are currently no vaccines nor antiviral treatments for the virus. While healthcare facilities can offer care to relieve symptoms and provide quarantine services, the virus is expected to run its course once it is contracted.

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