The MERS virus got its name — Middle East respiratory syndrome — because it first appeared in Saudi Arabia. But it’s spread to 25 more countries, including most recently in East Asia. A MERS outbreak in South Korea has killed 33 of the 182 people who contracted the disease.

Do I have it?

These are the most common MERS symptoms:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Shortness of breath.

Gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea and nausea/vomiting are also associated with MERS.

Of course, there are many causes of these symptoms. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says if you have these symptoms within 14 days of travel to the Arabian Peninsula (or contact with someone who traveled there), let your doctor know. Same thing if you develop symptoms within 14 days of being in a health care facility in South Korea.

Fighting back

Following outbreaks of SARS, another respiratory virus, the international community improved its ability to identify and share information about new cases. Today those tools help a lot in combating MERS. The World Health Organization plays a key role and maintains an FAQ about the disease.

There’s no effective anti-MERS drug … yet. But the U.S. and China have teamed up in the hunt to create one. A joint effort centered at Fudan University is hard at work. Scientists there are conducting trials to test their drug’s safety and effectiveness.

You have a role in this fight too. It starts with simple hand washing and good hygiene. But there are other things you can do. CDC suggests:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, and help young children do the same. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid personal contact, such as kissing, or sharing cups or eating utensils, with sick people.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects, such as doorknobs.