UniversityA potential epidemic: Understanding, combatting MERS
A potential epidemic: Understanding, combatting MERS

The Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is an illness that infects the respiratory system and is caused by a coronavirus of the same name (MERS-CoV). Its first case was reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

Last July 6, the Department of Health (DOH) confirmed the second MERS case in the Philippines, after a 36-year-old foreigner who came from the Middle East tested positive for the virus.


What is MERS?

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the disease came from an animal located in the Arabian Peninsula. It was noted that the virus was also found in some camels in certain countries in the Middle East.

MERS patients develop severe acute respiratory illness. CDC estimates that in every 10 patients, about three or four have succumbed to the disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that MERS has a fatality rate of about 36 percent.

The virus spreads through close contact with those already infected, especially those who care for an infected person. Its symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. However, there have also been cases of patients exhibiting little to no symptoms at all.

Anyone can be infected, but those who are highly at risk are the people who have traveled to the Middle East. Those who have weak immune systems are also susceptible to MERS.


Recently, the disease spread to South Korea, and it was highlighted that it was the biggest outbreak of MERS experienced outside the Middle East. As of July 11, the WHO’s account of the South Korean outbreak notes 185 confirmed cases in the country and a total of 36 deaths. One case has also been confirmed in China.

As of press time, no known vaccine for MERS prevention exists. There is also no specific treatment that is being administered to those who are found carrying the disease. The BBC warns that the greatest global concern involving MERS is the potential for the virus to “spread far and wide.”


MERS in the Philippines

The latest record of MERS in the Philippines is of a 36-year-old foreigner who arrived in the Philippines from the Middle East and had been tested positive for MERS last July 4. He was confined at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Muntinlupa City and was discharged on July 10 after two negative tests showed he was no longer infectious, according to a report by WHO.

The foreigner was on board a plane from Saudi Arabia and passed by Dubai before arriving in the Philippines on June 19. CNN Philippines reported that DOH spokesperson Lyndon Lee-Suy mentioned the risk of the transmission of the disease to the other passengers on the aforementioned flight being relatively low. According to Lee-Suy, the patient was already on the 14th day of incubation upon testing.

Following the discharge of the foreigner, the Philippine government remains on high alert against the virus by heightening monitoring and the conduct of quarantine measures in all ports of entry to the country, reported the Manila Times.

This is the second case of MERS in the Philippines. The first case was reported last February 12, when a Filipina nurse who arrived from Saudi Arabia was diagnosed with the disease. She was released from the hospital later in the same month.

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In a health bulletin released on July 7, the University Health Services Office stipulates several ways on how to prevent becoming infected with the virus:

  • Wash your hands frequently using soap and water.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with tissue paper when you cough or sneeze. Dispose used tissue paper immediately and properly.
  • Avoid touching your face—especially the eye area, nose, and mouth—with unwashed hands.
  • Regularly clean frequently touched surfaces (e.g. door knobs, handles).
  • Avoid close contact such as kissing, sharing cups, or eating utensils with sick people with people who have tested positive for MERS-CoV.

The bulletin also lists emergency phone numbers for MERS-CoV updates.

  • DOH Manila – (02) 711-1001 or (02) 711-1002
  • DOH Davao – (082) 305-1909
  • Research Institute for Tropical Medicine – (02) 994-1887 or (02) 807-2628 to 32 loc 239 or (02) 807-9603
  • San Lazaro Hospital, Adult Infectious Disease and tropical Medicine – (02) 732-3776 or 732-3777 loc 189; (0917) 813-0580; (0906) 445-7896
  • Makati Medical Center – ER – (02) 888-8910
  • Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center, Cebu City (032) 514-6537
  • Philippine Society of Microbiology and Infectious Disease (PSMID) (02) 911-6986 or 912-6036