Everything You Need To Know About The Deadly MERS Virus

As of May 2014, a total of 538 laboratory-confirmed cases and 145 deaths have been attributed to the MERS virus. Two cases have been reported in the U.S.

Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) was first reported in 2012 in Saudi Arabia. It's a viral respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus (MERS-CoV.)

Handout / Reuters

Coronaviruses are part of a large family of viruses that cause anything from the common cold to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) that impacted the world in the early 2000s.

Since 2012, the MERS virus has spread to as many as 18 different countries, including the United States.


The source of the MERS virus has not been confirmed, but strains of the virus that match human strains have been isolated from camels in Egypt, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, according to the World Health Organization.


Other animals, including goats, cows, sheep, swine, and wild birds have been tested for MERS-CoV antibodies, but so far none have been found, which leads scientists to believe camels are a likely source for the virus that is infecting humans.

On April 24, a man flew from Saudi Arabia to Chicago and took a bus to Indiana, where he began to develop MERS-like symptoms and was admitted to a hospital three days later.

The Associated Press

“In this interconnected world we live in, we expected MERS-CoV to make its way to the United States,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We have been preparing since 2012 for this possibility."

On May 1, a 44-year-old man traveled from Saudi Arabia to Florida, and developed symptoms mid-flight to London, before continuing to Orlando through Boston and Atlanta.


This second confirmed U.S. case is not linked to the first case of MERS that was reported in Indiana earlier this month. Both men worked in close contact with infected MERS patients in Saudi Arabia hospitals.

The CDC is analyzing results from people who had close contact with the patient and monitoring them for any sign of MERS-related symptoms.

Jim Young / Reuters

"As you've heard, MERS-CoV is not easy to spread, and there is no broad risk presented to the public from this case identified in Orange County. This event reminds all of us about three ways to stay well and prevent the spread of infection," said Dr. John Armstrong, Florida's state surgeon general and secretary of health. "Washing your hands routinely, keeping your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth, and staying home when sick."

As of May 12, a total of 538 laboratory-confirmed cases of the MERS virus, including 145 deaths, have been reported, according to the CDC.

Bumbasor / Bumbasor

Saudi Arabia alone has reported 450 lab-confirmed cases and 112 deaths.

On May 13, the White House said President Obama has been briefed on the current MERS situation and the CDC is taking it "very seriously."

White House / vine.co

Although over 500 cases of the MERS virus have been reported, none so far have been confirmed to be transmitted on an airplane.

CNN / vine.co

"We've had over 500 cases reported. We have not had a single case that's known to be transmitted in an airplane," Dr. Marty Cetron from the CDC said.

The CDC is currently conducting airline contact tracing and plan to identify and notify U.S. travelers who might have been exposed to the infected patient during travel.

Cetron spoke with CNN's Wolf Blitzer about how much experts actually know about the virus.

View this video on YouTube

CNN / youtube.com

"There's a lot more we have to learn," he said. "I think we've learned some over the past two years, but there's still plenty of gaps to fill."

Although the CDC said “the risk to the general public remains very low,” the TSA urged travelers to take caution in this flyer posted at 22 airports around the U.S.


Travelers who develop a fever and respiratory illness within 14 days after traveling in or near the Arabian Peninsula should call ahead to their health care provider and mention their recent travel.

The majority of human-to-human infections occurred in health care facilities. One quarter of all cases have been health care workers, according to the World Health Organization.

T. Jasarevic / WHO

Three quarters of all primary community cases have been male, the majority of whom have been over 50 years old.

World Health Organization said Wednesday spread of MERS virus isn't yet a worldwide health emergency.



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