MERS virus: what it is and why it's made news

MERS in the headlines

Over the last week, news reports have emerged about two patients who were being kept in isolation and being screened for the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS-CoV) virus in Manchester.

The patients were admitted to the Manchester Royal Infirmary Hospital, after returning from the Middle East and presenting with symptoms of this virus. These suspected cases of MERS led to the temporary closure of the hospital's A&E department.

The A&E department has since reopened and both patients have tested negative for the disease, Public Health England have today confirmed.

How is the MERS virus transmitted and how common is it?

MERS is passed between animals - usually camels - and humans. The virus was first isolated from a patient who died from a severe respiratory illness in June 2012, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Although most cases of MERS have occurred in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, cases have also been reported in Europe, the USA and Asia, in people who have travelled from the Middle East or their contacts.

Four people have been diagnosed with the disease in Britain, the last in February 2013.

What are the typical symptoms of MERS and how does the virus spread?

A typical case of MERS includes of fever, cough, and/or shortness of breath and gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhoea. Severe cases can cause respiratory failure that requires mechanical ventilation and support in an intensive-care unit.

The World Health Organisation has said that there are no known cases of MERS spreading throughout the community, although there are some cases where transmission of the virus has occurred in hospital. To catch the virus, a person would have to come into close contact with somebody who is already infected with MERS.

What is the risk of catching MERS in the UK?

Public Health England reports that the risk of contracting MERS infection in the UK remains very low.

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