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Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

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MERS Virus May Never Become Big Threat in U.S.

New strain will most likely weaken over time, infection specialists explain


The reason viruses get less deadly is simply that a virus that kills its host can't survive to infect others. "If the virus kills its host, it's much harder to spread," Siegel said.

The key question is how easily does the virus travel from one person to another. "Right now, it does not look that transmissible. Otherwise, it would have spread already more than it has," he said.

Siegel wouldn't be surprised to see MERS-CoV in the United States. "The question is how many people are getting sick," he said.

Another expert, Dr. John Treanor, chief of the department of medicine and infectious diseases at the University of Rochester in New York, said that "we don't know very much about this virus, so appropriate concern needs to be taken."

However, he doesn't think people need to be particularly concerned right now. "That could, of course, change," Treanor added.

"The main driver of concern is that although it is not the same virus that caused SARS, it's from the same family and there is concern that this could end up emerging like SARS did and has the potential to cause severe disease. The advantage is that people are more prepared for this than they were for SARS and probably will do a better job of keeping it contained," he said.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the virus was first reported in 2012 in Saudi Arabia and is different from other coronaviruses found in people before.

Since then, cases have been seen in Britain, France and Italy, among people who traveled to the Middle East. The latest reported case is a 14-year-old girl from Saudi Arabia, which has the most cases, according to the CDC.

Symptoms of MERS-CoV include fever, cough and shortness of breath. And while half have died, others have had a mild case, which may mean there are many unreported cases.

The disease can be spread from one person to another, particularly if they are in close contact, the CDC said. Right now there is no treatment or vaccine for MERS-CoV.

Protecting yourself from MERS-CoV is the same as protecting yourself from any respiratory disease, the CDC noted. This includes:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact, such as kissing, or sharing cups or eating utensils, with sick people.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs.

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