How Serious is the Threat of MERS?
Health officials in the Philippines reported earlier this month that the country’s second case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome was diagnosed in a 36-year-old foreign man who had flown in from Dubai. The country has stepped up surveillance and quarantine measures at ports of entry and in the city of Muntinlupa, south of Manila, the country’s capital. Patients at the hospital where the man is being treated were donning face masks and taking precautions to prevent against the spread of the disease.
The man reportedly had a low amount of virus in his body and officials quickly located and began monitoring eight people he had come into contact with. The Philippine government has declined to release any additional information about the man, including his nationality, occupation or the reason for his trip to the Philippines.
The World Health Organization has not recommended any type of travel or trade restrictions related to MERS but has asked anyone entering the country to report to a hospital if they experience signs of a flu such as a fever with cough that are very similar to symptoms of MERS.
The first case of MERS was in February when a nurse who came from Saudi Arabia tested positive for the disease. She recovered and was declared free of the virus within a few weeks. South Korea is still grappling with an outbreak of MERS within its borders, and as of Monday 185 cases have been confirmed. Thirty-three of those patients have died, according to the WHO.
The national authorities of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been informed. Investigations on the possible exposure and contact tracing are ongoing, and enhanced disease surveillance is being implemented. Globally, since September 2012, WHO has been notified of 1,368 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection with MERS, including at least 487 related deaths.
It is not always possible to identify patients with MERS early because like other respiratory infections, the early symptoms of MERS are non-specific. Therefore, health-care workers should always apply standard precautions consistently with all patients, regardless of their diagnosis. Droplet precautions should be added to the standard precautions when providing care to patients with symptoms of acute respiratory infection; contact precautions and eye protection should be added when caring for probable or confirmed cases of MERS infection; and airborne precautions should be applied when performing aerosol generating procedures.
South Korea has recorded about 200 cases of MERS over the past six weeks, including more than 30 deaths. The South Korean outbreak began on May 20 when a 68-year-old man was diagnosed after returning from a trip to Saudi Arabia. Since then the virus has spread at a rapid pace, sparking public alarm that prompted the temporary closure of thousands of schools and trip cancellations by more than 120,000 foreign tourists.
Almost all patients were infected in hospitals and the World Health Organization (WHO) said it had found no evidence of transmission of the virus within communities outside hospitals.