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House calls: Middle East Respiratory Syndrome

There has been much news about Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) recently so I thought I would review it today.

MERS is a viral respiratory illness first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. MERS is caused by a virus called the coronavirus. The virus is most likely from an animal source. It has been found in camels and bats in the Saudi Arabia region. So, why is it important to us in the U.S.? There have been two recent US travelers from Saudi Arabia that contracted the illness and brought it back to the U.S.

MERS is characterized by fever, cough and shortness of breath. About 30 percent of people that get it die. It is spread from person to person by close contact. Public health officials have contacted healthcare workers, family and friends who have come in contact with these patients. Both patients who have contracted the illness are currently making a recovery. Both of these cases represent a low risk to the general public in this country.

The Center of Disease Control (CDC) is watching this illness very closely to better understand how it spreads, the risk of the illness and the treatments for the illness. The CDC recognizes the possibility of a global threat if precautions are not taken.

The CDC recommends following these tips to prevent the respiratory illness:

• Wash your hands with soap and water;

• Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing;

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands;

• Avoid close contact with sick people, and;

• Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.

There is currently no treatment or vaccine for MERS. MERS lab tests are available at state health departments and the CDC. These tests are not routinely available.

Again, there is low risk to the general population. Just because you get a cold or cough does not mean you have MERS. Upper respiratory tract infections and sinus conditions are also going around presently. If you do not have contact with someone who has been traveling overseas, the likelihood of you contracted the illness is almost none.

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