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05.13.2014

Get the facts on Middle East respiratory syndrome

Routine precautions may protect you and your family from MERS

APHA/CDC  |  Updated 1:00 PM, 05.13.2014

Posted in: Issues

  • Antibodies from a patient's blood react with MERS infected Vero cells. This reaction indications that the patient has contracted the MERS virus. CDC

The second imported case of Middle East respiratory syndrome in the United States was confirmed today, May 13, in an Orlando, Fla., hospital. The patient is a healthcare worker from Saudi Arabia.  The first imported U.S. case of MERS, also in a healthcare worker arriving from the Arabian Peninsula, was in Indiana.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Public Health Association are continuing sources for basic information on the viral illness. Here, from the American Public Health Association MERS factsheet, are answers to frequently asked questions from the public.

What is MERS?
Middle East respiratory syndrome, also known as MERS, is a respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus. A coronavirus is a common type of virus that most people have sometime during their lives.

The first MERS case was reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. The coronavirus behind the illness is different from those previously found in people. The disease has since been reported in other countries. Because of its seriousness and the possibilityof its spread, health officials around the globe are watching the disease closely.

What are the symptoms of MERS?
MERS is a severe illness. The symptoms are usually respiratory illness with fever, cough and shortness of breath. Diarrhea is also common. The disease can often be fatal.

How is MERS spread?
MERS can spread from person-to-person when people are in close contact, such as among families or co-workers. Health care workers have also been infected by patients. It’s not yet known for sure how MERS is spread between people. However, according to the CDC, coronaviruses in general are thought to be spread through the air by coughing and sneezing and through close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands.

Is there a vaccine for MERS? How is it treated?
There is no vaccine for MERS and no specific treatment. Medical care is usually used to relieve symptoms.

How can I protect myself from MERS?
The CDC advises people to follow these tips to help prevent respiratory illnesses:

  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer that is at least 60 percent alcohol.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing and dispose of the tissue.
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact, such as kissing or sharing dishware, with sick people.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces, such as doorknobs and toys.

If I have symptoms, should I see a doctor?
The CDC recommends that you see a doctor if you develop a fever and symptoms of respiratory illness, such as cough or shortness of breath, within 14 days after traveling from countries that are suspected to have MERS cases. Be sure to tell your healthcare provider about your recent travel.

What if I'm involved in global health care?
Health professionals traveling to provide medical, nursing or related patient services should follow the CDC’s recommendations for infection control of confirmed or suspected cases of MERS.

Where can I get more information on MERS?
The CDC and the World Health Organization offer information on MERS, including travel information and updated case information.

An endnote from the UW: The University of Washington is among the nation’s leading medical research institutions working on ways to treat MERS and to boost people’s resistance to the virus. Since the virus was first identified about two years ago, for example, UW system biologists have been examining host-virus response patterns through sophisticated analytical and modeling tools, and have been testing the effectiveness of currently available medications on this new viral illness. 

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