Preparing for MERS
Though it hasn’t yet shown up in the United States, much media attention has been paid in recent days to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus, or MERS CoV.
The virus, first identified in 2012, when it was reported to cause a fatal severe respiratory infection in a patient in Saudi Arabia, has since caused a total of 64 infections and 38 deaths in the Arabian Peninsula and Europe. The virus is different from, but similar to, another severe coronavirus that caused severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.
Symptoms associated with the virus include fever, coughing and shortness of breath. There is no specific treatment for MERS-CoV infection. The virus can be transmitted from person to person. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that follow these tips to prevent the spread of respiratory illness:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, and help young children do the same. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact, such as kissing, or sharing cups or eating utensils, with sick people.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs.
The CDC has not issued travel health warnings for any country related to MERS at this time. If you have traveled to one of these countries, and you develop a fever and symptoms of lower respiratory illness, such as cough or shortness of breath, within 14 days after your travel, you should see your healthcare provider and mention your recent travel.
Although at this time, there have been no MERS-CoV cases identified in Maryland – or anywhere in the United States – the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has taken steps to prepare:
- The Department has been monitoring what's happening in other parts of the world, and has been monitoring the guidance from the World Health Organization and the CDC.
- The Department has communicated with all Maryland hospital infection prevention programs to make them aware of what they should look for, what isolation and other infection prevention precautions to take for possible MERS-CoV infections, and how to get testing done if necessary.
- The Department has worked with Maryland local health departments and healthcare providers to quickly investigate reports of possible MERS-CoV infections.
- The Department has developed the capacity to do MERS-CoV testing in accordance with CDC guidance.