By John Michaelson
Minnesota News Connection
ST. PAUL, Minn. (May 23, 2014) — With recent word on the first U.S. transmission of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, many are concerned about what it could mean for public health.
Dr. David Swerdlow is leading the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s response team for this virus.
There is no alarm for Minnesotans at this point, with Swerdlow explaining that while the virus can spread from person to person, it isn’t easily transmitted.
“There’s been no sustained transmission like you see with flu, where it goes from person to person to person,” he explains. “So, at the current time, we are concerned about the virus, we do think that there could be imported cases, but we don’t see this being a major problem in the U.S. with widespread cases.”
According to the CDC, the first U.S. transmission happened when an Illinois resident had contact with a person in Indiana, who was infected while traveling in Saudi Arabia.
These two cases of MERS are not linked to third patient in Florida, who had also traveled to Saudi Arabia.
MERS was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. There have been almost 600 confirmed cases in 15 countries, and 173 deaths.
Swerdlow says most patients develop respiratory illness, with fever, cough and shortness of breath. And he says there is no specific treatment.
“Of course, if a person gets a respiratory illness like this, they can be treated in an intensive care unit if needed, and sort of the standard things that we do for patients with respiratory illness,” he stresses. “But there’s no specific treatment, like an anti-viral.”
The CDC advises health care workers traveling to the Arabian Peninsula to follow guidelines for infection control, and for other travelers to take precautions to protect their health.
As with any respiratory illness, Swerdlow says that means frequent hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, and avoiding contact with those who are sick.