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MERS-CoV: an emerging disease

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Emerging infectious diseases are a constant threat to human health and present a challenge to international surveillance systems. Close monitoring is needed as uncertainty will exist as to their possible impact on regional and global public health.

Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS-CoV) is an acute respiratory infection that was first observed in June 2012. To date, 853 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection, including at least 301 deaths, have been reported to the WHO.1 All these cases are associated with either living in or travelling in the Arabian Peninsula or having close contact with someone who has.

The infection is caused by a highly pathogenic coronavirus and carries a significant case fatality rate (CFR), but does not appear to be highly transmissible from person to person. Public health authorities continue to monitor cases carefully in case it becomes more readily transmitted.

Ten years ago, the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-CoV) ultimately involved more than 37 countries, impacting trade, travel, healthcare and individuals.2

Coronaviruses

Coronaviruses are small, round viruses that get their name from crown-like spikes on their surface, which give a halo-like appearance. There are three main sub-groups: alpha, beta and gamma. They occur throughout the world and are usually associated with mild upper respiratory tract infections, such as the common cold. There


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