The MERS virus has been making rounds in the news the past few weeks and you probably been wondering whether you should be concerned.
Coronaviruses are a fairly common type of virus similar to the type that causes the common cold. Coronaviruses like MERS typically affect the upper respiratory system and digestive tracts in birds or mammals.
MERS IN THE U.S: WHO ARE AT RISK?
Yesterday, Dr. Tom Frieden – the head of the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – issued updated information and guidelines to health professionals in America. The health advisory was about Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus infection or MERS-CoV.
These guidelines will help health professionals nationwide evaluate patients who may have traveled to affected areas or come into contact with people with MERS-CoV. But there is no cause for alarm. The CDC guidelines prescribe more of a ‘watch’ (surveillance) stance for MERS that indicates a low infection risk for the US at this stage.
HOW DO I PROTECT MYSELF FROM MERS VIRUS?
Currently, the CDC has a Level 1 advisory for travelers to affected regions like South Korea. Essentially, the CDC is not recommending you change plans to travel to South Korea due to this MERS outbreak. However, caution is advised.
Measures In Place: Containing MERS is South Korea
As of June 7, South Korea has had 127-recorded cases. Health professionals from the World Health Organization (WHO) have confirmed these cases of MERS infection.
Notably though, the current outbreak of MERS is much smaller and more contained than the recent Ebola outbreak. However like the common cold, MERS has no vaccine.
The government there is taking strong measures to stop the MERS oubreak from spreading in the country. All of the cases have been linked to hospitals so the South Korean authorities have taken extraordinary steps that include temporarily shutting down entire hospitals.
Other protective measures in place are the hotly contested closure of more than 2,800 schools, kindergartens and daycares, decontaminating public transit vehicles, canceled and postponed concerts and sports events and placing people with suspected exposure in quarantine.
Travel restrictions are also in place for non-essential travel to or from affected regions within and outside South Korea.
This Google map tracks infections by region
The region is also on high alert for the possible spread of the virus.
Currently, 11 deaths have occurred from MERS in South Korea, mostly elderly people. The latest person tested positive for MERS is a pregnant people.
The SARS outbreak of 2003 shaped the dramatic steps Korean authorities are taking to combat MERS. According to a WHO report, 8,098 people worldwide were infected and of these, 744 died. Cases popped up in two-dozen countries in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia before the global outbreak was contained. You can read more on this other coronavirus from CDC’s SARS-CoV site.
The case that began the South Korean outbreak was reported on May 20th. Patient Zero is a businessman who had traveled back from Saudi Arabia to Seoul. He visited four hospitals at the center of the outbreak in South Korea.