People should take precautions, such as washing their hands regularly, eating and sleeping well, and avoiding camel products, to prevent becoming infected with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus, a local doctor said here on Wednesday.
In a question-and-answer session organized by Arab News, Dr. Batool Mohammed Suliman Ali, an infectious diseases consultant, spent two hours fielding questions from readers on the most important facts about the virus.
Q: What is MERS?
A: Middle East Respiratory Syndrome is from the big coronavirus family that can cause flu-like symptoms. The virus has mutated causing various complications, including death.
Q: What are the symptoms of MERS?
A: A fever of more than 38 degrees C, coughing and shortness of breath. Some people vomit and get diarrhea.
Q: Does MERS spread from person to person?
A: Yes by means of contact or via droplets. So far, there is no proof it is airborne.
Q: Where does MERS come from?
A: We still do not know where this mutated virus comes from. The old coronavirus was isolated in bats, so more studies are needed.
Q: Can I get the virus by eating camel meat or coming into contact with camels?
A: Research is still ongoing, but the Health Ministry has advised people not to drink unboiled camel milk and under-cooked meat, and to avoid close contact with camels.
Q: Who is most at risk?
A: Again, we don’t know enough about the characteristics of the virus to answer this question just yet.
Q: Is there a vaccine or cure for MERS?
A: There is no treatment or cure so far.
Q: What can I do to protect myself from MERS?
A: You need to follow the precautions out- lined by the Health Ministry. Wash your hands frequently, avoid contact with sick people and avoid touching your eyes and nose. Avoid going to crowded places. Eat well, sleep well and drink a lot of fluids.
Q: Do I need to wear a face mask to prevent becoming infected?
A: There is no need to wear face masks in public places, such as shopping malls, workplaces or on the street. It is only indicated for health care workers who are seeing patients with the coronavirus, at a distance of under a meter-and-a-half. Wearing a mask for a long time will not protect a person against the virus, but will instead increase the risk of infection. People should use it for short periods at a time, and discard the used ones.
Q: How do I know the difference between MERS and a regular cold or flu?
A: If you have high fever, a cough and shortness of breath, then it could be MERS. Shortness of breath is an important indicator.
Q: If I get MERS, does it mean I will die?
A: No, not at all. A number of people who were infected have recovered and been discharged. There are also several people who are positive for MERS and have no symptoms at all. It may be unlikely to catch MERS from these people.
Q: What is the first thing I should do if I suspect I have MERS?
A: You need to go to the emergency section of a hospital and see a doctor.
Q: If I have been infected with MERS, can I go to any hospital or are there specific hospitals that handle MERS cases?
A: In Jeddah, it is King Fahd Hospital.
Q: What advice can I give to my children about MERS so they can stay safe at school?
A: Education is key. Tell them that they should wash their hands frequently and follow the same precautions as adults. If the child is sick or showing symptoms, then keep him or her at home. Teachers should also be educated to watch for signs of MERS and send children home, if necessary.
Q: Where can I get the latest details about MERS?
A: Visit the Health Ministry’s website at www. moh.gov.sa/coronanew.
Q: Is there a number I can call if I have any urgent questions?
A: Yes, it is 800 249 4444.
Q: What is being done to combat MERS?
A: There is a huge campaign by the Health Ministry and other agencies to increase awareness of the virus. The media is also vital to get information out to the public. I want to thank Arab News for taking the lead.
Q: How long can the virus stay inside the body?
A: It is difficult to say because more research is needed, but we can estimate about 20 days.
Q: If I don’t have a fever can I still be a corona suspect?
A: Hopefully no, except if you are immunocompromised or have chronic diseases.
Q: How are health workers dealing with MERS? Is there panic?
A: No panic at all. They are following the infection control procedures as required.
Q: What is your advice to school administrators and principals?
A: They have to educate both teachers and pupils, and if there are any suspicions that a child is sick, they need to send that child home.
Q: Are there any travel restrictions because of MERS?
A: So far no, but it is always better to check with the Health Ministry and other government bodies.