It’s only a matter of time before the new Middle Eastern Respiratoyr Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS or MERS-Cov) reaches the U.S. The virus is a distant relative of the SARS virus which killed 775 people worldwide in 2003. The SARS virus is not listed as cured, which means it may still be harbored by animals and may return.
What is a MERS?
MERS, also known as MERS-Cov, is a beta coronavirus. It is a novel coronavirus (http://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/mers/overview.html, meaning it differs from those found in humans before. Like SARS, it is most similar to cornona viruses found in bats.
Where Was MERS First Found?
According to NBC News, MERS first appeared in Saudi Arabia and was spread by people moving from one health care facility to another. Most of the initial cases were spread in units with close personal contact, such as hemodialysis and intensive care.
Is MERS Spreading?
MERS has been reported in Italy, Qatar, Germany, Jordan, Tunisia, The United Arab Emirates, France and Britain. It has not been reported in the U.S., but several people have been tested. American medical professionals are already on alert and are taking precautions, testing everyone who comes in with sudden-onset cold or flu-like symptoms. Thirty-eight deaths have been caused by MERS so far.
What are the Symptoms of MERS?
Unfortunately, the test for MERS is not very accurate, and most people have to be tested several times for a positive diagnosis. The initial symptoms are similar to those of a cold: fever, cough and shortness of breath. Unlike a cold, the symptoms may spiral rapidly into something a lot more deadly. Some patients may only have mild symptoms.
What Can I Do to Avoid Contracting MERS?
Hand hygiene is the best way to avoid being infected with this virus. It isn’t hard to kill on your hands and body. Alcohol-based hand hygiene products are very effective in killing it on your skin. As with any virus, the elderly, those with serious illnesses and very young children are the most vulnerable.
If you are a health care worker or involved in a business where you have close personal contact with travelers, you are at high risk for contracting any virus, including MERS. Proper hand washing and use of alcohol-based hand cleaners is the best known precaution your can take. No travel warnings have been issued by the World Health Organization or the CDC, so take extra precautions if you are traveling to countries where MERS has been found, or if you deal with middle-eastern or European travelers on a regular basis.
For more information, visit the CDC page on MERS.