The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus began in the region two years ago. Today, it has spread in many other countries as well. Scientists and experts have put two and two together in their relentless efforts to learn what exactly causes the virus to spread in humans and how it is transferred from one person to another. It is a mystery alright.
Over 500 people have become infected by this strange disease on a worldwide level. Almost one-third of these have tragically died. Something must be done to stop this virus from spreading. There are two cases in the United States as well.
The virus may be compared with the flu virus which has similar properties. But there are fundamental differences as well. Both cause problems with respiration. The MERS virus comes from a larger family of viruses though. And it is often found in animals as well.
"MERS-CoV, at the moment, is not readily transmissible, except in very distinctive circumstances. The most important of which is in the healthcare environment, where the health care providers have very close, prolonged contact with the patients," said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.
The common cold and SARS virus are other examples of vectors that may harm human beings. And while the first one of these is relatively harmless the second one is deadly.
MERS virus does not pass on from one individual to another with the same rapidity as influenza. And while the flu has various degrees of intensity in its symptoms, the MERS virus is always very extreme in its effects on the health of human beings.
"Influenza has a death rate of 1 percent, whereas at the moment, what we know about MERS is that death rate is about 30 percent. But 1 percent death rate is very high for an infection that affects many people," Schaffner told LiveScience.
The time flu takes to incubate is also longer in case of MERS virus. And the most worrisome trend is the high death rate from MERS. This is a cause of much anxiety like the AIDS epidemic in the 80s and 90s.
"On average in the United States, each seasonal influenza produces about 200,000 hospitalizations, and about 36,000 deaths. This is very different than what we have with MERS at the moment," Schaffner said.
And while the flu often occurs in children, MERS attacks the elderly and middle aged people. It is hoped that scientists may come up with a vaccine or cure soon.