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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers on the MERS-CoV

 

Q: What is MERS?

A: Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is a viral respiratory illness. MERS is caused by a coronavirus called “Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus” (MERS-CoV).

 

Q: What is MERS-CoV?

A: MERS-CoV is a beta coronavirus. It was first reported in 2012 in Saudi Arabia. MERS-CoV used to be called “novel coronavirus,” or “nCoV”. It is different from other coronaviruses that have been found in people before.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illness in humans and animals. In people, coronaviruses can cause illnesses ranging in severity from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The novel coronavirus, first detected in April 2012, is a new virus that has not been seen in humans before. In most cases, it has caused severe disease. Death has occurred in about half of cases.

 

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The virus is quickly spreading in the Middle East.
Photo courtesy of Rappler.

 

Q: Is MERS-CoV the same as the SARS virus?

A: No. MERS-CoV is not the same coronavirus that caused severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003. However, like the SARS virus, MERS-CoV is most similar to coronaviruses found in bats.

 

Q: What are the symptoms of MERS?

A: Common symptoms are acute, serious respiratory illness with fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. Most patients have had pneumonia. Many have also had gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea. Some patients have had kidney failure. About half of people infected with MERS-CoV have died. In people with immune deficiencies, the disease may have an atypical presentation. It is important to note that the current understanding of illness caused by this infection is based on a limited number of cases and may change.

 

Q: Does MERS-CoV spread from person to person?

A: MERS-CoV has been shown to spread between people who are in close contact. Transmission from infected patients to healthcare personnel has also been observed. Clusters of cases in several countries are being investigated.

 

Q: What is the source of MERS-CoV?

A: There is no known definite source of the virus. However, it likely came from an animal source. In addition to humans, MERS-CoV has been found in camels in Qatar and a bat in Saudi Arabia. Camels in a few other countries have also tested positive for antibodies to MERS-CoV, indicating they were previously infected with MERS-CoV or a closely related virus. However, it is not certain whether camels are the source of the virus. More information is needed to identify the possible role that camels, bats, and other animals may play in the transmission of MERS-CoV.

 

Q: How do people become infected with this virus?

A: It is not certain yet how people become infected with this virus. Investigations are underway to determine the source of the virus, the types of exposure that lead to infection, the mode of transmission, and the clinical pattern and course of disease. It is unlikely that transmission of the MERs-CoV to people occurs through direct exposure to an infected camel, as very few of the cases have reported a camel exposure. More investigations are needed to look at the recent exposures and activities of infected humans. Many technical organizations are offering their expertise to assist ministries responsible for human health, animal health, food, and agriculture.

 

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The Bureau of Quarantine has been on heightened alert since Monday, April 14, 2014, to monitor passenger arrivals who might be infected with the MERS virus.
Photo courtesy of Solar News.

 

Q: Can the virus be transmitted from person to person?

A: Yes. There are multiple clusters of cases in which human-to-human transmission has occurred. These clusters have been observed in health-care facilities, among family members and between co-workers. However, the mechanism by which transmission occurred in all of these cases, whether respiratory (e.g. coughing, sneezing) or direct physical contact with the patient or contamination of the environment by the patient, is unknown. Thus far, no sustained community transmission has been observed.

 

Q: How can I help protect myself?

A: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that people follow these tips to help prevent respiratory illnesses:

Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, and help young children do the same. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact, such as kissing, sharing cups, or sharing eating utensils, with sick people.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs.

 

Q: Is there a vaccine or treatment for MERS-CoV?

A: No vaccine is currently available. Treatment is largely supportive and should be based on the patient’s clinical condition.

 

Q: Can people still travel to countries in the Arabian Peninsula or neighboring countries where MERS cases have occurred?

A: Yes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend that anyone change their travel plans because of MERS. The current CDC travel notice is a Watch (Level 1) which advises travelers to countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula to follow standard precautions, such as hand washing and avoiding contact with people who are ill.

 

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

World Health Organization (WHO)

 

The DFA and DOH released the following guidelines for protection against the disease:

1. Practice proper hand hygiene always, by washing your hands with soap or hand rubs with alcohol before and after eating; before and after handling, cooking and preparing food; after coughing, sneezing and using the toilets; and before and before and after touching animals.

2. Practice proper cough etiquette by covering your mouth and nose while sneezing or coughing. Use a facial tissue when coughing or sneezing and cover your mouth and nose with it. Dispose the tissue in a waste basket.

3. Avoid contact with farm and domesticated animals, including camels.

4. Avoid contact with sick or infected with MERS-CoV. If you have respiratory illness, stay home and wear a surgical mask to protect your family members.

5. If you are a health worker, strictly follow infection control protocols in your work.

6. Visit your doctor, a hospital or health facility immediately if symptoms of MERS-CoV manifest itself, including, persistent coughing, and other.

7. If you were in close contact with a confirmed MERS-CoV patient, comply with local health regulations and postpone any trip abroad until after test results are negative.

8. Practice healthy habits such as regular exercise, balanced and nutritional diet, and adequate sleep of at least eight hours, as it would help strengthen the body’s immunity.

 

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DOH Secretary Enrique Ona talked about the symptoms of MERS-CoV on ANC’s Headstart.
Read more about this here.

 

Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Health’s Statement on the virus:

Dr. Al-Rabeeah: “Situation of Coronavirus Is Reassuring, It is not Epidemic, Praise be to Allah” 

His Excellency the Minister of Health, Dr. Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Rabeeah, has announced that the situation of the Novel Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is still reassuring, thanks to Allah. “The number of Corona cases recorded is not different in Jeddah than all other regions of the Kingdom,” said Dr. Al-Rabeeah. “The Ministry of Health (MOH) has noticed, by the onset of 11 cases in Jeddah, such limited increase of cases over the past few weeks. However, the rate of incidence is still low, and doesn’t represent an epidemic, May Allah be praised, according to the criteria of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the relevant scientific committees.”

Within the same vein, Dr. Al-Rabeeah called upon all citizens and residents not to be misled by rumors or unreliable information published via the social networking sites. Meanwhile, he urged the various mass media to receive their information from the accredited state entities, namely the MOH Agency for Public Health, the MOH Portal, or the MOH spokesman. “The Ministry is to inform all people of the updates or any important information in this regard,” stated Dr. Al-Rabeeah, indicating that the MOH Portal is provided around the clock with the updates and new cases of Coronavirus.

Furthermore, Dr. Al-Rabeeah called upon everyone to follow and adhere to the health instructions, guidelines and awareness tips issued by the Ministry in this regard; in order to protect themselves against this virus, by means of keeping away from the suspected cases, wearing masks and washing hands thoroughly when contacting with cases of respiratory tract inflammation. Dr. Al-Rabeeah has further pointed out that Ministry provides the health care followed in such cases, and keeps in constant contact and fully fledged coordination with the WHO and the national and international scientific organizations, to find out the all-new. Besides, he has highlighted that the National Scientific Committee for Infectious Diseases will hold its meeting on Thursday, to discuss the latest developments of the virus locally and internationally.

Finally, the Minister of Health has said, “The Coronavirus is novel and still mysterious worldwide, that we do not yet know a lot about ways of its transmission. Even, there is neither vaccine nor medicine for it.” Dr. Al-Rabeeah has prayed for Almighty Allah to preserve this country, its leadership, its citizens and all those who live on its land from all evils.

 

 

If you know of possible cases of the MERS virus involving OFWs in Saudi Arabia, please contact the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh:

 

Address: Diplomatic Quarter, Ummayah Abu As-Salat Street

P.O. 94366, Riyadh 11693

Phone numbers: 482-3559, 482-0507, 482-1577

Fax: (96611) 488-3945

Email:  [email protected]

Website: http://www.philembassy-riyadh.org/

Facebook Account: http://www.facebook.com/philembassyriyadh

Working hours: 8 AM to 5 PM, Sunday to Thursday