September 22, 2013 8:25 AM
MERS is a coronavirus, as is SARS. According to the CDC, it was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. The condition is a severe respiratory infection, with fever cough and shortness of breath as common symptoms. It is believed to spread through contact with an infected person. Of the 114 cases identified, 54 people have died. A small number of cases have been identified in France and in the United Kingdom.
Dr. Kristin Lee of CORE Infectious diseases at Exeter Hospital said they are watching the emergency department closely because that's where cases are most likely to present. They are also distributing almost weekly updates from the CDC to all area physicians.
The CDC is not prohibiting travel to the Middle East at this time. Instead, it emphasizes proper hand hygiene be followed, and that travelers avoid those who appear sick. If they do get sick, people should tell their health care provider about recent travel out of the country and especially to the Middle East.
"We are telling doctors who see patients presenting with severe respiratory ailments to ask about travel history," Lee said. "If they suspect a case, they must report it to the state board of health and testing will be conducted."
There is no vaccine for MERS, although efforts to develop one are under way.
Christine Adamski, bureau chief of Infectious Disease at the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services, said they are constantly receiving updates from the CDC.
"We are concerned that the fatality rate is about half of those infected," Adamski said. "This virus appears to be new to humans and there is not a lot of clarity on where it came from and how it is spread. Those who died may have had some pre-existing conditions, but we don't have enough information to be sure. Co-morbidities may have given some people a weaker immune system, resulting in complications that contributed to their death."
Adamski said her office is getting weekly updates on current numbers of cases.
"We are doing some preparedness at the state labs," Adamski said. "The CDC was very diligent early on. They sent test kits to all states and are watching carefully for signs of a global migration. We are advising that when a patient presents with illness and what is routinely tested for comes back negative, to consider this. At this time, we just want to maintain situational awareness."
Adamski said the CDC has issued a Level 1 travel advisory, which informs those traveling to the affected region to follow respiratory etiquette and to be aware.