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Spreading MERS Awareness: June 9, 2014

Now that MERS has been confirmed in Florida, health care workers are paying close attention.

“A lot of the respiratory viruses, they all look and sound roughly the same with some little changes,” says Joanne Andrews. She is a registered nurse with Lee Memorial Health System who works in the specialty of infectious disease. “But I think what’s going to highlight this for us is that these are almost entirely health care workers that have worked in areas where the MERS been found.”

MERS stands for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. First found in the Arabian Peninsula in 2012, it is a coronavirus, belonging to the same group of viruses as the common cold.  MERS attacks the respiratory system and can lead to pneumonia or kidney failure.

“This is a serious virus. It has our attention. Approximately 25-35% of patients do not survive,” says Andrews.

While risk to the general public is very low, a quick diagnosis increases the chance of overcoming the illness. Because it has hit American soil, the CDC is briefing hospitals and health care organizations.

“Guidance came out from the CDC - what health care facilities should take into consideration. That information was passed on to the ER directors so that they know when we have patients coming in through the doors and they have those flu-like symptoms probably the second question that you should ask is ‘have you traveled lately? And where from?’” explains Andrews.

MERS is spread through close human contact, including sneezing and coughing. So the same rules apply in preventing the passing of everyday germs.

“We always go to the CDC for guidance and they did a study long ago that said that the alcohol gels are every bit as effective as the soap and water.”

While there’s no reason to panic- it’s always reasonable to play it safe with proper hygiene.