What is M.E.R.S?
When the first case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) showed up in the United States recently, it got my attention. Don’t get me wrong, I am not usually reactionary or an alarmist, but I know these little viruses can be pretty dangerous. I also know we don’t have a lot in our medical arsenal to fight against the thing. So, when a virus makes the national news for being the first case, I pay attention. I was mildly comforted when I realized in was in Indiana, a few thousand miles away from my home. That comfort was shaken shortly after when another case showed up on Orlando, just a few hours from home. OK, now it has my attention.
Again, I usually watch these things get blown out of proportion on the news, and really don’t give it much thought. Maybe it was the unusually early and virulent flu season we just had or the recent EBOLA outbreak (that no one seems to be talking about). But, what I think really got my attention today, all healthcare workers who were exposed to the patient were placed in “home isolation”, however, two were being watched closely due to possible new onset of symptoms. Yup, you got my attention.
So, what is MERS?? Here’s what I could find out…
MERS is a coronovirus. Sound familiar? This is the same family of viruses that gave the SARS outbreak of 2003-2004. Usually coronovirus’ cause some upper respiratory infections, but usually not death. MERS was previous known as “novel coronavirus” and was first documented in Saudi Arabia in 2012. It was just got its name, MERS, last year, so it’s new and not well studied is what that means. According to the CDC, “they are still learning about it”. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), since May 3, 2014, there have been 489 reported cases with 126 deaths. That is about a 1 in 4 death rate. WHO report a 27% death rate. Most cases have been in Saudi Arabia. Also according to the WHO’s recent epidemiology investigation, they feel the upsurge in cases has been related to poor infection control practices in health care area. Sadly, one quarter of all the reported cases have been health care workers.
What are the symptoms?
- Severe respiratory illness
- Shortness of breath
Remember, the key is recent travel to the Saudi Arabian peninsula.
Currently, the CDC and WHO are not placing any travel restriction to the area. They do however, recommend vigilance with hand washing and avoid close contact with individuals who are sick – as usual.
The CDC has also put out interim guidelines for health care providers – if you care for patients, especially in the ER and/or ICU, probably wouldn’t hurt to become aware of the guidelines and precautions. They can be found here –> CDC MERS Healthcare Provider Guidelines.
So, this is what I have found out. It appears to be pretty contained, but as we have seen recently, one airplane ride can change that quickly. Again, I don’t want to be an alarmist, but as a healthcare worker, I do want to be informed. I figured if I wanted to know, someone else might also. Hope it helps and appreciate your comments.
Be safe and WASH your hands!!