UAE | Health

Deadly Mers virus jumped from bats to humans

New strain of coronavirus is milder than sars but spreads most rapidly in confined, crowded places

  • By Mahmood Saberi, Senior Reporter
  • Published: 21:00 July 15, 2013
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: AP
  • Mers (Middle East respiratory syndrome) coronavirus is from a large family of viruses such as Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and spreads among vertebrates.

Dubai: Hospitals should have an infection diagnosis and control protocol in place for Mers coronavirus as it spreads rapidly in confined crowded places such as hospitals and animal markets, a specialist said.

The doctor said it is important to know the travel movement of those infected and all hospitals should be aware of the symptoms, which are high fever, difficulty in breathing and coughing.

“It’s known that those affected are the elderly, those suffering from chronic disease, people who are immune-suppressed [with drugs], and organ transplant patients,” said Dr Ram Shukla, specialist in infectious diseases.

At the moment the transmission rate of the virus is mild to moderate but its killing rate is higher than Sars, he said.

The Saudi authorities, meanwhile, are asking that pilgrims coming to the country for the annual Haj in October should be vaccinated against meningococcal meningitis and yellow fever. But so far a flu vaccination is considered optional.

Excerpts of interview with Dr Shukla:

What is Mers coronavirus? Should we be concerned?

Mers (Middle East respiratory syndrome) coronavirus is from a large family of viruses such as Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and spreads among vertebrates. Though it’s from the same family of Sars, its genome is different. One possible scenario how it spread is that a bat could have infected goats. It spreads rapidly among animals, specially those in closed and crowded places such as an animal market or a consignment of animals on a ship. We need not panic as its transmission rate is not rapid at the moment and is termed as mild to moderate. One theory is that it could have spread to humans that were in close contact with the infected animals. It is the first virus whose origins are suspected to be from the Middle East. It is adaptable and has jumped to humans from animals.

 How can we prevent getting infected by the virus?

It’s very important to know that it’s a heavy droplet infection. An infected person sitting on an examination table in a hospital can spread it a metre-and-a-half around by coughing and not covering the mouth. The virus stays on objects such as chairs, tables and door knobs, for hours. So, it’s important to wash hands frequently and keep the infected areas clean. It spreads easily to those on breathing ventilator support systems and such as nebulisers (for asthmatics). Try to keep away from crowded places.

What are its symptoms?

High fever, difficulty in breathing and coughing. The virus attacks the upper respiratory tract and also causes pneumonia. It attacks the kidneys also.

Who should beware this virus?

The elderly, children and pregnant women, those whose immune systems have been compromised and those suffering from chronic diseases such as diabetes as well as those in confined places such as hospitals and homes that are crowded. The mortality rate of Mers is 60 per cent at the moment.

Will wearing a mask help prevent contracting the infection?

It will be helpful if the known infected people wear masks to prevent the virus spreading in the community. For the general community a mask known as N95 should be worn. This is a mask with a filtering respirator. If this is unavailable, a face mask should be worn.

Can Mers be treated?

There is no cure or vaccine for this virus at the moment.

Will it spread rapidly?

Unlike Sars which had “super-spreaders” there is no evidence yet that Mers has similar “super-spreaders” that infect a huge number of people.

Gulf News