10 Questions on the Deadly Middle Eastern Virus That Showed Up in Indiana

A man wears a mouth and nose mask as he walks in a street of the Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah on April 27, 2014. The MERS death toll in Saudi Arabia neared 100 this weekend as the authorities scrambled to reassure an increasingly edgy population in the country worst-hit by the infectious coronavirus.

A deadly Middle East virus that has killed more than 100 people made a surprising appearance in Indiana this week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the case of Middle East respiratory syndrome, commonly known as MERS, and announced Friday that it launched an investigation into the case.
Eighteen people were confirmed to have MERS on Saturday, the largest daily increase in new infections so far, Reuters reported. The number of cases in Saudi Arabia is 396, of whom 109 have died, the news agency said.
It's easy to become alarmed by news like this, especially if you're unaware of the facts. So, we wrote an overview that covers what you need to know about the virus, and the overall situation as it stands today:

How worried should I be?

Let's be very clear here: You are in no immediate danger. The CDC said in a briefing that the risk to the public is "very low."

Then, why should I care?

Anytime a new and deadly virus appears, there is reason for alarm. Releasing accurate information to the public is a key step in combatting the virus. The CDC spread the word quickly about the case in Indiana not to cause unnecessary fear, but because public awareness and understanding are important in these situations. "CDC helps people cope during health emergencies by giving them accurate and timely risk information," according to its website. "This arms people with knowledge to help reduce fear and the potential for disruptive behavior."
If there is a MERS outbreak beyond the initial case, knowledge is an important tool for the CDC to help control the situation. Public knowledge leads people to post about illnesses on social media, providing the authorities with a new tool to track outbreaks.

So what exactly is MERS?

Its full name is MERS-CoV, short for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus. A coronavirus is a particular type of virus that usually causes respiratory or gastrointestinal symptoms, according to the CDC. Other illnesses in the coronavirus family include strains of the common cold and Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

How do you catch it?

Like other viruses, you have to come in "close contact" with someone who is infected, according to the CDC. This is good news, as it means that the CDC, which said it has already taken steps to isolate the patient in Indiana, can control outbreaks with relative ease.
However, that could change. The CDC will be keeping a close eye on potential new cases to make sure the virus does not mutate. Mutations can alter the communicability of the virus, the CDC said in a briefing with reporters.

How do I know if I have MERS?

Symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the CDC. Those are pretty common ailments, so on the off chance you do contract MERS, you won't know unless you get tested. If your symptoms are bad enough, head to a hospital to get it checked out.

If there is an outbreak, how do I keep myself healthy?

Right now, the CDC recommends basic precautionary measures, such as avoiding contact with infected people, and avoiding touching your face with unwashed hands. There is currently no cure or vaccine for MERS.

Did anybody see this coming?

Yes, the CDC. It has had an eye on this disease for some time. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters on Friday that the CDC had been prepared for MERS to make its way to the U.S.

What's the fatality rate?

About 30% of people who have been confirmed to have MERS died, CNN reported, which makes it a pretty potent disease. However, it pales in comparison to some of the most deadly diseases such as Ebola, which can kill 90% of its patients, according to the World Health Organization.

How did this end up in Indiana?

Just about every case of MERS has occurred on the Arabian Peninsula, until now. The infected person in Indiana recently worked as a healthcare provider in Saudi Arabia; the patient then traveled to London, and on to Chicago before taking a bus to Indiana, the CDC told reporters. The CDC said the patient did not demonstrate symptoms until arriving in Indiana.

So, it's just the one case in the U.S.?

That's right. The CDC said it's conducting an ongoing investigation, but has not yet found any other people infected with MERS. Let's hope it stays that way.

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