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Volume 30, Issue 1

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Tuesday, 10 June 2014 16:08

MERS: How Should Public Health Departments Prepare?

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) has been on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s radar since it first appeared in Saudi Arabia in 2012. The World Health Organization called the MERS virus a “threat to the world,” because of the unknowns surrounding it, most notably how it spreads. But nothing made the threat more real than when the first case of MERS was confirmed in the U.S. on May 2, 2014.

MERS is a viral respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus called MERS-CoV. MERS has killed at least 175 people worldwide and sickened hundreds in the Middle East. It has spread from ill people to others through close contact, such as caring for or living with an infected person. People infected with MERS commonly experience fever, shortness of breath and coughing. About 30 percent of those infected with the virus die.

Given today’s interconnected world, communicable diseases are truly just a plane ride away. Therefore the potential for MERS-CoV to spread further and cause more cases globally and in the U.S. is significant. Now that MERS has officially reached U.S. soil, what should public health departments and emergency managers be doing to prepare?