Story highlights

MERS has shown limited human-to-human transmission, but cases rising in Korea

Vast majority of South Korea cases confined to hospital infections

MERS patients who died in South Korea had underlying medical conditions

Hong Kong CNN  — 

The numbers sound scary as cases and deaths of MERS mount daily in South Korea.

People are commuting with face masks in a densely crowded Asian capital, schools are shutting doors and mandatory quarantines are in effect. But what really are the risks and dangers to the general public?

As one official said, South Korea is fighting two battles: MERS and public fear.

Should I be worried about getting MERS?

Not really.

“It’s not a very contagious disease,” said Dr. Stanley Perlman, one of the authors of a comprehensive MERS review published in the journal Lancet this month. “Personally, people shouldn’t be worried, but I can understand the fear factor.”

South Koreans are being told to take basic preventative measures like keeping hands clean, covering coughs and avoiding personal contact.

Steps to prevent MERS

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then dispose of the tissue.
  • 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.

  • Source: CDC

    A person with MERS is estimated to infect less than one other person. It’s called a basic reproduction number that estimates the average number of people that a sick person will infect.

    Compared with the reproduction number for Ebola, (in which one infected person is likely to spread the disease to two other people) or measles (one infected person is likely to to spread the infection to 15 other people), the rate of MERS is low indeed.

    How infectious is MERS?