A second person has been struck by MERS in the U.S. This person is also a healthcare worker with ties to the area of origin, the Middle East. For a while, there was fear that those who took care of the patient before the diagnosis might have caught the disease. At this point, that isn’t the case. It does cause us to wonder about our own safety.
What is MERS? Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome affects the lungs and respiratory tract of its victims. The symptoms are very similar to the flu though the virus isn’t related. It is a type of corona virus similar to SARS (Saudi Arabian Respiratory Syndrome).
How is it transmitted? It actually isn’t that easy to spread. It requires close contact with the patient. The people most likely to catch the virus are those who live with or take care of a patient. The healthcare workers who worked with the second case are in voluntary isolation at home until the incubation period is over.
Who is most at risk? Travelers to and from the Middle East and healthcare workers are at the most risk. After that, family members are at risk, followed by anyone who sat near the patient in an emergency room.
What is the fatality rate? In the Middle East, the death rate has been about 25%. Whether or not that would be the same in the U.S. isn’t known.
Is there a cause for alarm? Yes and no. It is something to watch for, but it isn’t yet a common problem. There are two cases in the U.S., but both seem to be doing well. In fact, one is out of the hospital. It isn’t easy to transmit at this point in time. That could change; viruses mutate.
What’s being done? Research on MERS is slow. The vector still isn’t known for certain, though camels have tested positive for the virus. Whether they gave it to humans or vice versa is a mystery.
There is a tendency for the press to make an issue out of something like this. Emotions like fear and panic sell. This is not something to panic about. Even if it was more contagious, panic doesn’t help. It causes more problems than it solves. In this instance, there is room for caution but not an extreme amount of concern. Our best bet is to stay informed.