MERSMiddle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is a viral disease that affects the respiratory system (lungs and breathing tubes). The virus was first reported in 2012 in Saudi Arabia. MERS has struck more than 20 countries, with Saudi Arabia being the most affected. As of 3 June 2015, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 30 cases of MERS-CoV infection. According to a recent RT report, the first death due to MERS has been registered in Germany in more than two years.

Scientists and healthcare experts know little about MERS. Nevertheless, based on the information that is available, here are the answers to frequently asked questions about the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

What is the source of the MERS-CoV infection?

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is caused by a coronavirus known as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV). The source of the virus is not fully clear. However strains of MERS-CoV have been identified in camels in several countries, including Egypt, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

What are coronaviruses?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause a variety of diseases — from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). MERS-CoV is different from other coronaviruses and there is no vaccine.

What are the symptoms of this viral illness?

Common symptoms of MERS-CoV include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Conditions such as pneumonia, gastrointestinal symptoms, multi-organ failure and septic shock have also been reported. Most people infected with MERS-CoV develop severe respiratory illness.

How does one get infected with this virus?

MERS-CoV spreads from ill people to others through close contact, such as caring for or living with an infected person. MERS can affect people of any age.

Are people in the U.S. at risk for MERS-CoV infection?

As of now, the MERS situation in the U.S. represents a very low risk to the general public in the U.S. Only two patients (healthcare providers who worked in Saudi Arabia and visited the U.S) tested positive for MERS-CoV infection-both in May 2014-while more than 500 have tested negative. They were hospitalized in the U.S. and discharged after they recovered fully.

Can I travel to countries where cases of MERS have been reported?

The CDC does not recommend that people change their travel plans because of MERS. Most person-to-person cases have occurred among healthcare providers. Travelers to the Arabian Peninsula and South Korea are advised to follow standard precautions such as taking precautionary shots before traveling, washing hands and avoiding contact with people who are ill. However, WHO cautions travelers to the Middle East that pre‐existing chronic diseases such as diabetes, chronic lung disease, immunodeficiency can increase the chances of illness.

What if I had close contact with a person who has MERS?

The CDC recommends that you watch for symptoms such as fever, coughing, shortness of breath and contact a healthcare provider if any of these symptoms are noticed.

How is CDC dealing with MERS?

The CDC is closely monitoring the MERS situation globally and working with partners such as the World Health Organization (WHO) to better understand the risks of this virus, how it spreads, and how infections can be prevented. It has increased laboratory testing capacity in states to detect cases, and has provided health departments with recommendations on infection prevention and control.

What is treatment given to MERS patients?

There is no vaccine to prevent MERS-CoV infection and no specific antiviral treatment for the infection. Medical care is provided to help relieve symptoms. For severe cases, current treatment includes care to support vital organ functions.

It was recently reported that Chinese and American scientists have jointly developed a new antibody – m336 – targeting MERS virus. When tested on animals, it was found that the m336 antibody could neutralize MERS virus more effectively than other antibodies. For the medication to reach the market, it has to go through four phases – laboratory tests, animal testing, trials on humans and approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).