10 things to know about the Mers virus

A man, wearing a mouth and nose mask, checks his phone as he leaves the hospital's emergency department on April 27, 2014, in the Saudi capital Riyadh. Over the weekend, the death toll for the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) topped 100,
A man, wearing a mouth and nose mask, checks his phone as he leaves the hospital's emergency department on April 27, 2014, in the Saudi capital Riyadh. Over the weekend, the death toll for the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) topped 100, sparking concerns about how the mysterious virus is spreading. -- PHOTO: AFP

Over the weekend, the death toll for the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) topped 100, sparking concerns about how the mysterious virus is spreading.

Mers is a respiratory illness first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Since then, it has infected 339 people and claimed 102 lives.

Three weeks ago, closer to home, a Malaysian man in Johor Baru died from Mers - the country's first confirmed fatality from the virus - after returning from a pilgrimage to Mecca.

Other countries with confirmed cases include France, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Tunisia, United Kingdom and United Arab Emirates.

Singapore has no reported case so far. But the Ministry of Health (MOH) here has issued a statement saying that hospitals will remain vigilant to test for Mers.

10 things to know about Mers

1. It is a type of coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, which includes the common cold and Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome).

Yet, Mers is different from other coronaviruses that have been found in people before.

2. It is unclear where the virus came from, though it is likely from an animal source.

Besides humans, Mers has been found in camels in Qatar and a bat in Saudi Arabia.

3. Mers can spread between people who are in close contact.

4. Symptoms include acute and severe respiratory symptoms, accompanied by fever, cough, suffocation and difficulty in respiration.

5. There is no vaccine yet. Patients are given supportive medication to help relieve symptoms and deal with complications.

MERS virus explainer graphic

6. About half of those infected have died.

7. There is currently no advisory against travel to countries of the Arabian Peninsula or to countries with reported imported cases of Mers.

8. To protect yourself, observe good personal hygiene at all times, practise frequent hand washing (before handling food and after going to the toilet), avoid close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections and avoid contact with animals.

If contact has been made, wash hands thoroughly with soap.

9. Frequent travellers to the Middle East and Umrah/Haj pilgrams are advised to get vaccinated against influenza and meningitis.

Those aged 65 and above or have chronic medical conditions should also get vaccinated against pneumococcal infections.

10. If you develop a fever and symptoms of lower respiratory illness, such as coughing or shortness of breath, within 14 days after traveling to countries in the Arabian Peninsula or neighbouring countries, see a doctor immediately. Mention your travel history.

Sources: World Health Organisation, Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Saudi Arabia Ministry of Health, Singapore's Ministry of Health

joanchew@sph.com.sg