DES MOINES, Iowa – With the announcement of the first U.S. transmission of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), many are concerned about what it could mean for public health.
Dr. David Swerdlow, who is leading the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) response team for the virus, says there is no alarm for Iowans at this point. While the virus can spread from person to person, Swerdlow says, it isn’t easily transmitted.
“There’s been no sustained transmission like you see with flu, where it goes from person to person to person,” says Swerdlow. “So, at the current time, we are concerned about the virus, we do think that there could be imported cases, but we don’t see this as being a major problem in the U.S. with widespread cases.”
According to the CDC, the first U.S. transmission of the virus occurred when an Illinois resident had contact with a person in Indiana who was infected while traveling in Saudi Arabia. Those two cases of MERS are not linked to a third patient in Florida, who also had traveled to Saudi Arabia.
MERS was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Since then, there have been almost 600 confirmed cases in 15 countries, including 173 deaths. Swerdlow says most patients develop respiratory illness with fever, cough and shortness of breath, and he adds there is no specific treatment.
“If a person gets a respiratory illness like this, they can be treated in an intensive care unit if needed, the standard things that we do for patients with respiratory illness,” he says. “But there’s no specific treatment, like an anti-viral.”
The CDC advises healthcare workers traveling to the Arabian Peninsula to follow guidelines for infection control, and for other travelers to take precautions to protect their health. As with any respiratory illness, Swerdlow says that means frequent hand-washing, covering coughs and sneezes, and avoiding contact with those who are sick.
(Iowa News Service)