Spread of MERS Unlikely Here in the U.S.

The chances of the deadly MERS virus spreading here seem unlikely, says a local doctor specializing in infectious diseases.

MERS -- short for Middle Eastern Respiratory Coronavirus  --  has infected more than 300 people and claimed the lives of more than 100 people in Middle East, Europe, Asia and North Africa. There have been no cases reported here in the United States.

So far, only about 30 percent of those contracting the virus became ill, explained Bruce Hirsch, MD, an attending physician at North Shore University Hospital’s division of infectious diseases.

Given MERS inefficient mode of transmission, healthcare authorities here would be able to rapidly respond to the disease to contain it should it make an appearance, he said.

Until recently, the disease was thought to be linked to people who acquired it from contact with camels. But now, the World Health Organization (WHO) says that more cases of MERS seem to be spreading through person-to-person contact.

As with all types of viruses, Dr. Hirsch said there are precautions people can take to limit exposure.
“During a time in which there’s an outbreak of a viral illness like this there are a number of common sense things that we can do to protect ourselves,” he said. “One thing is to avoid crowds; avoid people who are sick. Also, don’t be a hero; don’t go to work if you’re feeling ill and expose other people to a virus unnecessarily.”

Just as important, he said, is to practice personal hygiene.
“Wash hands frequently. Many viruses are spread not only through the air but also by direct contact.”
MERS belongs to the coronavirus family that includes the common cold and SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, that killed nearly 800 globally in 2003.  MERS causes acute respiratory illness, shortness of breath and can lead to kidney failure.

WHO has warned countries to be on the lookout for cases of the MERS in people returning from Middle Eastern countries affected by the virus. There is no vaccine or cure for MERS.

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