A long forgotten cousin of COVID-19 has returned to the United Arab Emirates, the World Health Organization (WHO) warns.

Someone hospitalized with an illness in the UAE tested positive for Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, also known as MERS, last month. No other cases have been detected by officials.

The disease is transmitted from camels to humans. However, this person had no known contact with the animals before falling ill.

Global officials first became aware of MERS in June 2012 when a case was confirmed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. While the world has never suffered a massive outbreak of MERS similar to that of COVID-19 or even SARS, infections have occasionally cropped up around the Arabian Peninsula.

Camel on the edge of Dunes in Gobi desert
A desert camelGetty Images

A total of 2,605 infections have been confirmed since the disease was first detected just over a week ago. Around 35% of those people died from their illness. However, experts say the raw figures may be severe undercounts, and the mortality rate could be lower.

The disease spreads via prolonged close contact, but has now shown the ability to spread in community clusters the way other coronaviruses can. This has caused alarm for the World Health Organization (WHO), which now is asking for further sequencing into the person’s infection to determine how they may have contracted the virus.

Initially, a person will likely experience flu-like symptoms with MERS, though shortness of breath, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting are also known issues.

In more severe cases, patients may experience pneumonia, respiratory failure or kidney failure – all of which can be deadly.

This is the 94th ever case of MERS detected in the UAE. Two cases have been reported in the United States since 2013, though both were linked to recent travel from the Middle East.

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