The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday asked healthcare officials to remain extra vigilant when examining patients exhibiting symptoms associated with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) including severe respiratory infection if they have traveled abroad following an outbreak in South Korea where four new cases were confirmed today, bringing the total number of cases to 126.
On June 11, the South Korean health ministry reported 14 new cases of MERS in South Korea, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 122 — including a pregnant woman. Since the MERS virus outbreak was first detected three weeks ago, South Korea has reported nine deaths. At a news briefing on Thursday, South Korean Health Minister, Moon Hyung-pyo said all general level hospitals would implement a “safe hospitals” program to separate suspected MERS patients from other patients, so people would not have to worry about visiting hospitals.
Middle East Respiratory Syndrome has been primarily detected in patients in Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East. However, reports of sporadic cases in Britain, Greece, France, Italy, Malaysia, and now South Korea has raised concerns about the potential global spread of the disease by infected airline passengers. The first reported case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome was diagnosed in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Worldwide, hundreds of people have died from MERS over the last few years. In May 2014, a case of MERS in Indiana became the first known case of the deadly virus in the United States.
According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), the symptoms of MERS-CoV infection include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Approximately thirty percent of patients diagnosed with MERS died. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed in May, 2014 that an Illinois man and a Florida resident also tested positive for the potentially deadly Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome virus. The patient in Illinois had close contact with an Indiana patient who became sick after traveling from Saudi Arabia to the United States at the end of April in 2014. The Indiana and Illinois patients met twice on business in Illinois before the Indiana patient was found to be infected with MERS Co-V. The Illinois man tested positive for MERS, however, has no symptoms associated with the virus. CDC officials say it is possible for people to test positive for MERS-CoV infection but not get sick.
The MERS virus has been found in camels, but healthcare officials and global researchers admit they are puzzled as to how it MERS is spread to humans. It can spread from person to person, but officials believe that happens only after close contact. In conjunction with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Center for Disease Control has developed preparedness goals intended to measure state and local public health jurisdictions’ preparedness and response to bio-terrorism, outbreaks of infectious diseases, and other public health threats and emergencies.