Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus has made its way into the United States after killing hundreds in the Middle East. The MERS virus, first isolated in 2012, is a coronavirus that spreads through respiratory droplets and causes a severe acute respiratory illness. Symptoms of infection include fever, cough and shortness of breath.
MERS, similar to the flu, can be quite dangerous to the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. Since it’s transmitted following close human-to-human contact, family members caring for their sick relatives can easily contract the virus. This seems to be why so many have been infected in the Middle East: Owing to poor living conditions and the lack of proper medical care, an estimated 30% of those infected have died.
Two confirmed cases have been reported in patients traveling from the Arabian Peninsula to the United States.
On May 2, MERS was confirmed in an Indiana hospital. The patient, a healthcare worker, had recently arrived from Saudi Arabia following layovers in London and Chicago. He was isolated and successfully treated. Shortly after, an Illinois resident whom had close contact with the infected patient before his hospitalization began exhibiting symptoms of infection. He tested positive for antibodies to the virus, suggesting he suffered a very mild illness before fully recovering.
On May 11, MERS was reported in an Orlando hospital. The patient, a healthcare worker, was traveling from Saudi Arabia and reported layovers in London, Boston and Atlanta. He felt unwell during the flight, so visited the Emergency Room after landing. He was successfully treated and is currently in good health.
The current strain of MERS virus is not a major threat to the United States. Still, communities of immuno-compromised citizens in close quarters are at risk. It is for this reason that hospitals and nursing homes across states like Florida are warning residents to stay aware of the warning signs.
- All viruses have the ability to mutate into a deadlier strain
- There is no evidence of sustained spreading in community settings
- If you’ve been in close contact with one of the individuals infected by MERS, call your healthcare professional and inform them promptly
- Always wear a protective mask (such as N95) when caring for a patient or relative with a cough and a fever
Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed May 19, 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/mers/index.html