Here’s What Happens When You Get The New SARS-Like Virus MERS
17 MAY 2013
There are still many things researchers don’t know about the new SARS-like virus now called MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus) that’s been infecting people in the Middle East.
There’s no vaccine against the new virus, but a study published in the journal Scientific Reports on March 27 showed that the anti-virals ribavirin and interferon-alpha 2b seem to stop the virus from copying itself in the lab. About half of the 40 infected people have died.
Here’s what we know happens when you get infected with MERS, based on the first few cases published in November 2012 in the New England Journal Of Medicine. Some people — especially those who aren’t already sick with another disease — just get a mild respiratory illness, similar to the flu.
First, you come into contact with the virus. Researchers don’t know where the virus lives — it could infect animals and be spread by contact with them, but we don’t know what animal.
The virus, previously dubbed the novel coronavirus (nCoV) and now called the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), is genetically similar to the notorious SARS virus that erupted in China and Hong Kong a decade ago. Coronaviruses are usually transmitted to humans from bats, so they could be the reservoir, but the virus hasn’t been found in any animal yet, according to the World Health organisation.
There’s evidence the virus can pass from human to human: It spread from a patient in France to two others, and a cluster of 20 people were infected at a Saudi Arabian hospital. These infections happen when the virus from one patient to another through “prolonged” contact of more than 15 minutes.