SITUATION AWARENESS BRIEFING: Deadly MERS Virus Hits Uncomfortably Close To Home

International Travel Brings Dangerous Diseases to Our Doorstep

Author: Epidemiology & Communicable Disease Staff/Friday, May 9, 2014/Categories: Home Page, NEWS

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Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), a potentially fatal virus which has now sickened hundreds in 12 countries and carries a fatality rate of more than 30 percent.

In 2012, health officials from the Arabian Peninsula reported the first cases of what is now called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), a potentially fatal virus which has now sickened hundreds in 12 countries and carries a fatality rate of more than 30 percent. U.S. health officials have been watching MERS emerge and anticipating it would only be a matter of time before the virus reached North America. Their suspicions were confirmed May 2, when a Saudi national who traveled from London to Chicago by air, and then to northern Indiana by bus, was admitted to Munster Community Hospital with the nation’s first case of MERS.

Fortunately, quick work by the National Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Indiana state health officials and the Illinois Department of Public Health has averted catastrophe for now. However, this incident demonstrates that our travel-friendly world makes all of us more vulnerable to diseases with potentially fatal consequences.

CDC had a plan. It contacted and tracked everyone who flew on the plane from London to Chicago, those who shared the bus ride from Chicago to northern Indiana, and even some 50 Community Hospital workers that could have been exposed to the MERS case. No one else has developed MERS symptoms.

International travel by jet now means that a new influenza strain from China, a wild polio virus from Equatorial Guinea, or MERS can reach our shores within a few hours. We all need to be alert for international health risks and be prepared to take precautions when they are warranted.

MERS likely developed from an animal source; bats and camels are prime suspects. MERS symptoms include: fever, cough and shortness of breath. The virus is known to spread from person to person through close contact, such as caring for or living with an infected individual.

Persons with Arabian Peninsula travel plans are advised to closely monitor their health, wash hands frequently, and avoid contact with ill people. Persons becoming ill within 14 days of travel to the Arabian Peninsula should quickly consult a health care provider and let them know about your travel itinerary.

Of course, there are things we all can do to prevent the spread of infectious disease. Wash hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and warm water. Cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough, and avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.

In case of a disease emergency, monitor this website for the latest developments.

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