MERS In The U.S.: What Are Your Risks?

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A microscopic image of a coronavirus

The man hospitalized in Indiana with the first U.S. case of a potentially fatal respiratory virus called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, is improving and could be released from the hospital soon, health officials are reporting.

On April 24, the health-care professional, who had been working at a hospital in Saudi Arabia, traveled from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to London, then from London to Chicago. He next took a bus from Chicago to Indiana. He was discovered to have been infected with the virus on April 27, when he started experiencing “respiratory symptoms,” and was admitted to Community Hospital in Munster, IN, according to the CDC.

The virus, which first surfaced in Saudi Arabia in 2012, has mostly been found in the Middle East. It is a close cousin of the deadly SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) virus that infected more than 8,000 people worldwide in 2003 and killed 774 people.

“In this interconnected world we live in, we expected MERS to make its way to the United States,” Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, says. “We have been preparing since 2012 for this possibility.”

According to the Associated Press, Indiana’s state Health Commissioner, William VanNess II, said no health-care workers or family members who’ve had contact with the patient have tested positive for the virus. In addition, state health officials have said that no other cases of MERS have been identified.

What is MERS?

MERS, or Middle East respiratory syndrome, is an illness caused by a virus called a coronavirus. It is also sometimes referred to as MERS-CoV, for Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus.

How easy is it to be infected by MERS?

Officials say it most often spreads between people who are in close contact. Infected patients, for instance, have spread the virus to health care workers. The virus does not appear to spread easily among people in public settings, such as a shopping mall.

What are MERS symptoms?

The most common symptoms are fever, cough, and shortness of breath. MERS can cause severe illness and death.

Does MERS have a cure?

There is no cure for MERS, but its symptoms are treatable. Also, the CDC is considering creating one.

Who is most susceptible to this virus?

The virus is more dangerous for people with pre-existing conditions or immunity problems.

Is it still safe to travel?

The CDC recommends that people who are traveling to countries with MERS (see list below) to monitor their health for the above symptoms, wash their hands (and the hands of any children traveling with them) often, use hand sanitizer, and avoid people who may be sick.

In addition, once travelers return home, they should continue to watch for MERS symptoms, which can develop within 14 days after exposure.

According to the CDC, the countries where MERS cases have been identified include:

  • Saudi Arabia
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Qatar
  • Oman
  • Jordan
  • Kuwait
  • United Kingdom
  • France
  • Tunisia
  • Italy
  • Malaysia
  • United States

What should you do if you think you have MERS?

If you experience any of the above symptoms, it is extremely important to get to a medical facility as quickly as possible. If you were recently traveling, you should also be sure to discuss this with your doctor.

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