The virus known as MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) has spread enough for the WHO (World Health Organisation) to say the situation is now more serious and urgent. The WHO's assistant director-general for health security Dr Keiji Fukuda said that the illness currently does not constitute a global health emergency but needs to be carefully monitored in case of a sudden epidemic. Dr Fukuda said declaring an emergency is "a major act" that can unnecessarily "raise anxieties." He added that there is no "evidence of person-to-person transmissibility". The virus has so far been reported in 18 countries since surfacing in Saudi Arabia in 2012. There have been 571 confirmed cases and 171 deaths.
The USA's Center for Disease Control said MERS is a viral respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus called MERS-CoV. It said: "Most people who have been confirmed to have MERS-CoV infection developed severe acute respiratory illness. They had a fever, cough, and shortness of breath. About 30 per cent of these people died." Researchers believe it was passed to humans from camels in Saudi Arabia. All of the people who have contracted it have had very close contact with other sufferers. Doctors said it does not pass from person to person like a flu virus. Airports in the U.S. are advising those travelling to the Middle East to: "Wash your hands often, avoid touching your face, avoid close contact with sick people."