South Korea's Mers outbreak: 10 things to know about the virus

This article was first published on April 29, 2014, and updated on June 2, 2015

SINGAPORE - South Korea reported its first two deaths from an outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) on June 2, 2015. So far, at least 25 people have been infected with the virus in the Asian nation. A South Korean man who had the virus and entered China has also been put on a respirator, after his lung condition worsened.

The World Health Organisation said that it was not recommending screening of passengers or the imposition of travel or trade restrictions, but several tour agencies are seeing groups canceling plans to travel to South Korea.

South Korea now has the third-highest number of Mers cases after Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Mers is a respiratory illness first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Since then, it has infected more than 300 people and claimed over 100 lives.

Singapore has no reported case so far.

Here are 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 affected countries 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 travelling to affected 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