CDC Updates MERS Advice to Stress Korean Travel History

June 12, 2015

Clinicians should ask patients with serious respiratory problems whether they have recently been in a healthcare facility in South Korea to screen for the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

MERS recently migrated from its epicenter in the Arabian Peninsula by way of one traveler to South Korea, where the virus has proliferated in healthcare facilities. The World Health Organization reported 125 confirmed cases of MERS and 11 deaths in South Korea as of today, along with one case in China.

Public health authorities in the United States have been monitoring the MERS virus since 2012, the year the disease was first identified in the Arabian Peninsula. Only two individuals so far have tested positive for MERS in this country. Both were healthcare workers who had contracted the virus in Saudi Arabia in early 2014.

In a health advisory on MERS issued yesterday, the CDC recommended that clinicians pay close attention to travel history as they keep an eye out for the disease. A patient presenting with fever and pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome should be evaluated for MERS if he or she had been a patient, worker, or visitor in a South Korean healthcare facility within 14 days of symptom onset. Likewise, MERS should be checked out if the patient had traveled from countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula within 14 days or symptom onset or had close contact with a symptomatic traveler from that area. The guidance outlines similar scenarios that call for a MERS evaluation.

Clinicians treating individuals possibly infected with MERS should adhere to infection control recommendations for standard, contact, and airborne precautions. They should also tell their local or state health department about any patient they are evaluating for the virus. More detailed clinical guidance on handling suspected cases of MERS is available on the CDC website.

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