The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has been the center of the world's attention in the last few weeks. Panic over the disease is rising just as fast as its spread across the globe. The escalation of cases is overshadowing previous similar viral illnesses that had affected people not so long ago. 

These include the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) which was first reported in Saudi Arabia back in 2012. 

The disease - which belongs to the coronavirus family - infected thousands in the region and the world in recent years. Though the two viral diseases originated in different countries and have some dissimilarities, they are more alike than one might think. 

What are the origins of MERS-CoV and COVID-19?

MERS-CoV and COVID-19 belong to the same large family of viruses called coronaviruses (CoV). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), these viruses can cause "illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases."

All coronaviruses including MERS-CoV and COVID-19 can be found in a number of animal species. In rare cases, animals can pass these viruses to humans, who can then rapidly help their spread among people. This kind of transmission occurred with several coronaviruses including the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), MERS-CoV, and COVID-19. 

Both MERS-CoV and the current coronavirus are believed to have originated in bats. The WHO also believes that MERS-CoV can be traced back to camels

MERS-CoV was first reported in Saudi Arabia back in 2012 while COVID-19 is believed to be a mutated coronavirus that first emerged in a seafood market based in China's Wuhan in December 2019. 

What are their symptoms?

MERS-CoV and COVID-19 share several similar symptoms including high fever, a cough that can progress into pneumonia, and difficulty breathing. Both viral diseases can cause other flu-like symptoms including a sore throat, sneezing, and muscle/joint pain. 

Similar to MERS-CoV, some people infected with the current coronavirus seem to show no symptoms or display very mild signs of illness. 

In both illnesses, severe complications can occur and lead to kidney failure, respiratory failure, and death. 

Those at higher risk of losing their lives to both viruses include people aged 60 and above or those who have pre-existing medical conditions such as heart problems and diabetes.

How did the viral diseases spread in the region?

MERS-CoV is believed to have originated in Saudi Arabia and went on to spread to 27 countries, 10 of which were in the Arabian Peninsula. 

The illness spread via travelers who went from the kingdom to other countries across the world; it expanded at a far slower rate than COVID-19. 

Since it first emerged in 2012, lab tests have confirmed 2,519 cases of MERS-CoV globally. A few cases of the illness continue to be reported in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region. 

COVID-19's spread has proven to be much more expansive so far, spreading to over 80 countries worldwide in a matter of a couple of months. The illness was first reported in Wuhan, China and has infected around 93,000 people as of March 3

What are the major differences between the two illnesses?

The main two differences between MERS-CoV and COVID-19 are the infection and death rates. 

The former is far more deadly than COVID-19 as it claimed the lives of 866 people out of the 2,519 infected, which amounts to a death rate of over 35 percent.

COVID-19 has a 3.4-percent death rate so far, which is considered quite low when compared to other viruses belonging to the same family. 

The newly mutated virus is also affecting far more people than MERS-CoV, with over 93,000 infections confirmed worldwide.