YES, the MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Corona virus) has been reported in South Korea, our country’s biggest source of tourists, and there is indeed reason to be alert. But, there is no reason to panic nor shun anyone. There is just the need to know what the virus is.
As reported by the World Health Organization (WHO), MERS-CoV is a zoonotic virus, meaning it comes from animals, specifically the dromedary camel in the Middle East – those one-humped camels tourists love to ride. The strains of Mers-Cov have been identified in camels in several countries including the Egypt, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.
For as long as you do not hang out with camels, then you’re okay. At least on the first level of transmission.
The virus itself is not easily passed on from human to human, except on the health care level: from those attending to patients with MERS-CoV in health institutions like hospitals to family members.
In South Korea, the majority of the cases occurred in health care facilities made worse by the Asian tendency to visit their sick by the droves and the reluctance of government to reveal where the suspected patients were confined.
This means, the prevention and control practices have to be in place, especially among health care workers and administrators.
WHO reminds, “Droplet precautions should be added to standard precautions when providing care to all patients with symptoms of acute respiratory infection. Contact precautions and eye protection should be added when caring for suspected or confirmed cases of MERS-CoV infection. Airborne precautions should be applied when performing aerosol-generating procedures.”
In short, masks and proper hygiene.
Common symptoms are fever, cough, and/or shortness of breath. A common finding when already brought for medical examination is pneumonia, while others have reported gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea.
The virus causes more severe symptoms on those who already have weak immune systems like the elderly and those with chronic diseases like diabetes and chronic lung disease.
There is no reason to ostracize anybody who is coming from Korea of the Middle East, but we have to ensure that those showing symptoms are made to seek medical attention.
But as WHO warned, it is not possible to identify a patient with MERS-CoV immediately since its symptoms are just like any regular disease we succumb to every now and then – fever and cough. Thus, the greatest importance is in the standard infection prevention and control practices for all patients within health care facilities.