Health officials in the Middle East are still struggling to stem an outbreak of MERS that has killed 93 people and sickened more than 260.
A 4-year-old boy from Abu Dhabi is among the SARS-like virus’s most recent victims, according to the World Health Organization, which has been tracking the outbreak since it emerged in September 2012. And while the majority of cases have clustered in the Middle East, the virus is just a plane ride away from landing in the United States, experts say.
Here are five things you need to know about the outbreak.
Saudi Arabia is ground zero for the outbreak, with 339 cases and 102 deaths. But at least 13 other countries have reported infections, including Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Malaysia, Oman, France, Greece, Italy, the United Kingdom and the Philippines.
U.S. health officials are “closely monitoring the MERS situation” and are ready to assess U.S. travelers taken ill in affected areas, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
“CDC recognizes the potential for the virus to spread further and cause more cases and clusters globally, including in the United States,” the agency said. The virus spreads from person-to-person, but might also be transmitted to humans from animals, according to WHO.
Three out of 10 people who contract the MERS virus die from it, according to WHO data. Most of the fatal cases have involved the elderly and people with pre-existing medical conditions.
|It Can Look Like the Flu|
Symptoms of the MERS virus include fever and cough, which are also symptoms of the flu. MERS can also cause diarrhea and shortness of breath, and can lead to pneumonia and kidney failure.
|It Might Have Come From Camels, Bats or Both|
While the source of MERS remains a mystery, scientists suspect that it came from an animal. Camels in Qatar and a bat in Saudi Arabia have tested positive for the virus, according to the CDC.
|There’s No Cure|
There's no treatment for MERS. People who get sick are given supportive treatment to address the infection’s various symptoms, according to WHO. There's no vaccine, either.