MERS: What You Need to Know

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The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is attempting to contact 100 people who may have been exposed to the potentially deadly MERS virus after an infected 44-year-old patient was hospitalized in Orlando, Florida. Here’s what you need to know about this developing outbreak:

What is MERS?
Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which first appeared in the Middle East in 2012, is a type of coronavirus. It can cause coughing, shortness of breath, fever and pneumonia. The incubation period (the time from when someone is exposed to when symptoms develop) is usually between five days and two weeks. Approximately 30% of reported cases have been fatal.

How many people have been affected?
To date, more than 500 people have had confirmed cases worldwide – mostly in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. In total, 18 countries have had confirmed cases. There have been two confirmed cases in the U.S., both in people who traveled from the Middle East. One of those people has recovered, and the other is hospitalized but doing well, according to the CDC.

Should you be worried?
The CDC says that the two confirmed U.S. cases “represent a very low risk to the general public in this country.” Risk of transmission is believed to be minimal for people who have casual contact with someone with MERS, and elevated for health-care workers or anyone who has had very close contact with an infected person. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that though concern has “significantly increased” due to a rise in cases, MERS does not yet meet criteria for a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern.” The situation is being closely monitored by the CDC, WHO and other public health organizations.

What can you do to avoid contracting MERS?
There is currently no MERS vaccine. However, regularly washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if water isn’t available, can help prevent you from catching a respiratory illness. Also, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and try not to kiss or share glasses, plates or other eating utensils with people who are sick. Keep frequently touched surfaces (including doorknobs) clean and disinfected.