Expert: MERS cases in U.S. likely to rise, S.C. prepared

Friday, May 23, 2014
By Paul Martin

By Patrick Phillips
May 22, 2014

Since it was first identified in 2012 in Saudi Arabia, Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, has affected more than 700 people worldwide.

The viral respiratory illness causes fever, cough, sore throat and shortness of breath.

Health officials still believe the risk to the general public remains low with 3 people testing positive here in the U.S. But as people gear up for a heavy travel season, Dr. Timothy West, Chief of Infection Prevention at Roper St. Francis Hospital, says the numbers will likely go up in the states.

“I think the way it’s expanding right now in the Arabian peninsula I think we will see an increasing amount of MERS in the U.S. and across the globe,” West said.

West says he does not encourage people to change travel plans, but to be cautious of traveling abroad to places in the Middle East and Mediterranean. It’s especially important to avoid agricultural areas of the Middle East, West said.

Camels have already been identified as possibly carrying the virus and its also been found in a bat.

MERS is airborne and contagious, and West says you can get it from close contact with an infected person and it can even spread by just a handshake.

“You can get it on your hands, in your eyes, so hand hygiene is extremely important,” West said.

West says some people get very sick from the respiratory illness, while others may have mild to no symptoms at all. The duration of symptoms from MERS could last up to 14 days.

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