MERS virus may be 'threat to entire world'


Scientists know very little about this virus. They don't know where it comes from in nature or how many people have been infected and how. They do know it's a coronavirus that comes from the same family as SARS - the epidemic that infected more than 8,000 people and killed nearly 800 back in 2003.

The new virus has been named Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) because of where cases first started popping: Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Emirates then to Tunisia. They've confirmed additional cases in France, Germany and the United Kingdom. In total, officials report 49 cases since September, and 27 have died. Of the 27, many were elderly and had underlying medical conditions, yet experts say healthy people are still at risk.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. David Lin says it's only matter of time before it shows up in the U.S.

"It's not something that would be out of the realm of possibility," Lin said.

Lin has been studying the latest details about the MERS germ. A new report out Wednesday suggests people who have the disease should be isolated for at least 12 days to avoid spreading it. Initial symptoms include fever and respiratory problems.

"In a lot of cases, people end up developing severe respiratory failure, kidney failure," Lin said.

There is no treatment except for supportive care. But unlike SARS, Lin says MERS does not appear to be as contagious, but if the virus evolves further, it could become more dangerous and more transmissible.

"The most concerning thing about this coronavirus right now is that it's new and there's not a lot known about it, and we're continually finding more and more cases springing up," Lin said.

The World Health Organization has not made any travel restrictions, and the CDC says they do not recommend that anyone change their travel plans because of the MERS virus. However, they say U.S. travelers to countries in and around the Arabian Peninsula should monitor their health and see a doctor if they develop fever, cough or shortness of breath.

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