The Saudi Arabian Ministry of Health (MOH) announced a new case of MERS-CoV, also known as camel flu, over the weekend. This is the case of a 56-year-old Saudi man from Jeddah diagnosed as having MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus). According to the MOH, he had direct contact with camels, a known risk factor for contracting the disease.
The virus has an incubation period (time between exposure and the appearance of the first symptoms) of 2 to 14 days, and it is believed that patients are not contagious during this period. MERS-CoV infection symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath, and nasal congestion while some patients also experience diarrhea, nausea or vomiting.
The virus affects people differently – some experience mild or no symptoms and fully recover. However, unlike most respiratory viruses, a MERS-infected patient is more likely to experience more severe complications, such as pneumonia or kidney failure. About a third of people infected succumb to the illness. MERS-CoV seems to be more severe for people who are older, have weaker immune systems, and chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer, and chronic lung disease.
Camel flu was first reported in 2012 in Saudi Arabia. It is different from any other coronaviruses that researchers have found in people before. At the moment, researchers can’t say for sure where the virus came from. Most of the people became infected with MERS-CoV after contact with camels, although more information is needed to figure out the possible role that camels and other animals may play in the transmission of the virus. So far, all reported cases have been linked to countries in and near the Arabian Peninsula. The largest known outbreak of MERS outside the Arabian Peninsula occurred in the Republic of Korea in 2015 and was associated with a traveler returning from Saudi Arabia.
MERS-CoV has been reported in over 20 countries to-date, including China, Malaysia, Korea and the Philippines. Saudi Arabia’s MERS-CoV total cases since 2012 have now reached 1,815, including 736 deaths. Nine people are still being treated for their infections.
Currently, there is no specific antiviral treatment recommended for MERS-CoV and there is no vaccine to prevent infection. The US National Institutes of Health (NIH), Saudi Arabian MOH, International Vaccine Institute (IVI), and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), are some of the organizations working on developing one.
If you are worried about being at increased risk for MERS, read more about what you can do on the CDC website.