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CDC Reminds Doctors to Watch Out for MERS

by Maggie Fox /  / Updated 

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Doctors, hospitals and emergency rooms need to keep a look out for MERS, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus, which is causing a fresh outbreak in South Korea right now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

Patients showing up with respiratory symptoms need to be questioned carefully about where they have traveled and who they have been in contact with, CDC says.

CDC issued a health alert about MERS, which has infected more than 1,200 people globally since it was first identified in 2012 and which has killed about 450 of them. That’s an alarming death rate of 37 percent.

So far, all cases have been linked to the Arabian Peninsula, most of them to Saudi Arabia. And most are linked to hospitals. But the case of a man who traveled from the region to South Korea shows it doesn’t take much for an outbreak to happen elsewhere.

More than 125 new infections in Korea have been linked to the traveler, including 10 deaths.

“CDC continues to recommend that healthcare providers and health departments throughout the U.S. be prepared to detect and manage cases of MERS,” CDC said.

“Healthcare providers should continue to routinely ask their patients about their travel history and healthcare facility exposure and to consider a diagnosis of MERS infection in persons who meet the criteria for patient under investigation, which has been revised to include considerations of recently being in a Korean healthcare facility.”

Criteria that should spark special attention include:

  • Fever and pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome and a history of travel to the Arabian peninsula or close contact with such a traveler
  • Fever and pneumonia or respiratory distress and a history of being in a healthcare facility in South Korea
  • Fever or symptoms of respiratory illness (such as shortness of breath) and close contact with a confirmed MERS case while the case was ill.

“Healthcare providers should adhere to recommended infection control measures, including standard, contact, and airborne precautions,” CDC added.

“At this time, brief interactions, such as walking by a person, are considered low risk and do not constitute close contact,” CDC added.

There have been two cases of MERS in the U.S. both in health care workers traveling from Saudi Arabia. Both got better and never infected anyone else.

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