Local Health Officials On Watch For MERS

By: Jaclyn Piermarini Email
By: Jaclyn Piermarini Email

May 30, 2014

Local doctors and health officials say if we have an outbreak of MERS they are ready.

The disease has two confirmed cases across the country, so area hospitals and doctors are on alert.

There is no vaccine or cure and there's no specific treatment...so local officials are taking it seriously.

Virginia hasn't been spared a MERS scare.

Two weeks ago the state Department of Health revealed several Virginians were exposed to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.
The people at the center of the scare were air travelers who might have come in contact with people that were sick.

But just so every cough or respiratory infection doesn't scare you, what should you look for?

We asked Dr. Costi Sifri, an epidemiologist at the University of Virginia Health System, what to look for as far as symptoms.

"People tend to present with fevers...and respiratory illness, fever, cough, shortness of breath, and then sometimes they can have other symptoms, things like headaches or GI illness."

But the most attention needs to be paid to people that have traveled to the Middle East recently.

"I think the distinguishing thing right now is its association with travel to the Middle East so that tends to be what is cluing people and health care providers to the possibility of MERS."

Suspecting a patient has MERS requires a special set of guidelines for doctors set by the CDC and state health department.

First, they notify the local health department. Then the department of health will give a test --results coming back in about 24-48 hours. Isolating the patient is critical.

Letters have been sent out in the past few weeks to doctors to let them know to be vigilant and what to look for...and what to do if they suspect someone has MERS.

So its not time to panic yet.

"So far MERS has really not been seen as a sustained illness in the community. It appears to be close contact is required for transmission."

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