05/06/2014 01:34 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

5 Things You Need To Know About MERS

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By Susan E. Matthews

A healthcare professional from Indiana came down with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), a deadly respiratory virus, last week after returning from a trip to Saudi Arabia. This is the first case of MERS reported in the United States. His condition is improving, according to his doctors who are monitoring him at Community Hospital in Munster, Indiana, and he doesn't seem to have infected anyone else. Here's what you need to know about MERS, the SARS-like virus that he's battling.

1. It's very unlikely that you'll get it.
Even though MERS has been making headlines since the first reported case in Jordan in April 2012, there have only been 401 confirmed cases globally. All known cases have resulted from individuals either being in the Middle East, visiting the Middle East, or caring for someone who contracted the virus while visiting the Middle East. The Indiana man did travel on a plane and bus during his trip home, but none of his fellow passengers have reported illness. Though the disease can pass between humans, so far that's only happened in instances of extreme close contact.

2. But if you do, it's pretty dangerous.
Of the 401 people who have contracted the virus, 93 have died from the disease, giving MERS a much higher mortality rate than Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) or the flu. Currently, there is no standard treatment for the disease, either. The virus largely affects the respiratory system, so doctors focus on helping patients breathe safely, maintaining key organ functions, and managing symptoms while they fight off the disease. The main symptoms of the disease are fever, coughing and shortness of breath. Anyone who is experiencing these symptoms should see their doctor if they've traveled to the Middle East in the past 12 weeks, or come in close contact with someone who has.

3. MERS is a coronavirus like SARS, but it's not SARS.
Coronaviruses are a group of RNA viruses that include MERS, SARS and most cases of the common cold. They affect humans and many animals, and in some cases are thought to jump between humans to animals. For example, researchers believe that both SARS and MERS originated in bats. When SARS surfaced in China in 2002, it spread more quickly, eventually infecting over 8,000 people and killing 750. MERS is more deadly than SARS, but it's also less likely to spread.

4. There isn't a MERS or SARS vaccine.
Public health efforts to stop the spread of SARS succeeded, but there is still no vaccine for the disease. There isn't a vaccine for MERS yet either, though researchers are starting to explore the possibility.

5. You can still travel to the Middle East.
While Saudi Arabia put out a travel warning for anyone coming in to their country in the summer of 2013, the Centers for Disease Control has not urged people to stay away from the region. If you do plan to travel, taking precautions like hand washing; not touching your mouth, nose or ears; and avoiding sick people should help you stay safe. The virus is more likely to affect older people, particularly if they have another condition that is affecting their health.

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5 Things You Need To Know About MERS originally appeared on Everyday Health