CDC Issues Advisory to US Hospitals over South Korea MERS Outbreak

Ed Jones/AFP

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an official health advisory on Thursday in response to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak in South Korea. They urge all hospitals to prepare and familiarize employees with the disease.

“CDC continues to recommend that healthcare providers and health departments throughout the US be prepared to detect and manage cases of MERS,” they stated in the advisory. “Healthcare providers should continue to routinely ask their patients about their travel history and healthcare facility exposure and to consider a diagnosis of MERS-CoV infection in persons who meet the criteria for patient under investigation (PUI), which has been revised to include considerations of recently being in a Korean healthcare facility.”

They released a list of ways to prevent MERS:

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.

Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then dispose of the tissue.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

Avoid personal contact, such as kissing, or sharing cups or eating utensils, with sick people.

Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects, such as doorknobs.

The outbreak started in late May after “A 68-year-old man returned from a trip to the Arabian Peninsula with the MERS virus and visited four hospitals before he was diagnosed.” The disease has killed 10 people so far and infected 122 others. The South Korean government quarantined 3,800 people, which lasts from two to 14 days.

Authorities first diagnosed MERS in 2012. It originated in Saudi Arabia, and the majority of cases have occurred in the region. When the disease has been found in another country, the carrier has typically contracted the illness while in the Middle East. The disease attacks the respiratory system, and patients develop “severe acute respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath.” The CDC reported “3-4 out of every 10 patients” died.

The disease has caused authorities to close two hospitals. All staff, patients, and visitors were forced into quarantine. The latest hospital closed “after one of the confirmed MERS patients had visited the hospital exhibiting severe symptoms.” That one patient came “into contact with 257 people both inside and outside the hospital.”

“Super spreaders” could be the cause for the massive outbreak, since “that person is exhaling a very large amount of virus” or very “energetic.”

“They may get around more… give more hugs,” explained Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt. “If they don’t feel quite well they may keep it to themselves.”

The South Korean government is considering reopening schools. The disease shut down almost 3,000 schools. The Seoul School superintendent claimed the individual schools should determine when to reopen. The World Health Organization provided approval “since there is no evidence of MERS circulating in schools and only one of over 100 cases affected a teenager.”


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