The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC, recognized the potential global spread of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome when the first reported case in the U.S. was identified on May 2.
MERS is a viral respiratory illness that causes those who are infected to develop severe acute respiratory illness.
It was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012.
So far in the U.S. there have been three reported cases in less than two months.
“The big fear is that mutations will occur that will allow the coronavirus to be more easily transmitted from person to person, via the air, or direct contact,” said Professor of Biology Jeffery Burkhart.
“If that were to happen (the disease) could become ‘the big one’ compared to the 1918 flu epidemic that killed up to 5 percent of the global population. However my reading of the risk is that we should be vigilant, but at this time not overly concerned.”
One of the three cases was connected to another after an Illinois resident came into contact with the first.
MERS was originally thought to be linked to the severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, outbreak in 2003 but it is now known they are unrelated.
Both viruses, however, are found in the same animals in similar regions.
Some symptoms of MERS include fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
Those who have been infected have also developed a severe acute respiratory illness and of those who have been infected, 30 percent have died.
The virus has been known to spread through physical contact, such as living with an infected person, or caring for them.
The CDC is unable to determine how MERS started, but think it likely came from an animal source.
Camels in Qatar, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and even a few bats from Saudi Arabia have tested positive for carrying MERS-CoV.
Camels in a few other countries have also tested positive for antibodies to MERS-CoV, indicating they were previously infected by it or a closely related virus.
However, the CDC does not know whether camels are the direct source of the virus.
“I feel like our area has a low risk of getting infected, considering how it’s all the way on the other side of the country,” said sophomore biology major Andrea Capiral.
“I think the thing that scares me the most is that the symptoms for MERS seem similar to the flu, and if we confuse the two, then we are really in trouble.”
Eighteen countries around the world have reported cases of MERS, that were contracted either through direct contact or travel.
These countries include Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Jordan, Kuwait, Yemen, Lebanon, United Kingdom, France, Tunisia, Italy, Malaysia, Turkey, Greece, Egypt, United States of America and the Netherlands.
“Saudi Arabia has lots of camels, lots of visiting health care workers from around the world, and huge numbers of religious pilgrims who come for a time and then return to their homes,” Burkhart said. “The possibilities of (MERS) being carried from Saudi Arabia to wherever is very good.”
The CDC recognizes that the potential for the spread of the virus to the U.S. is low.
They recommend routine precautions for the prevention of infection, such as washing hands frequently, avoiding contact with sick people, and disinfecting surfaces around your home, CDC spokeswoman Julianne Edelstein said.
Though there aren’t any specific treatments to cure MERS, there is medical care to support and relieve symptoms.
Kristine Delgadillo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.